'The Atrocities' Is Basically 'Coraline' Meets 'Black Mirror' & It's The Creepy Read You Need This Summer
I love a good mashup, especially of the literary variety, and I found exactly what I was looking for this summer when I picked up a copy of Jeremy C. Shipp's The Atrocities: a gothic novella that reads like Coraline meets Black Mirror. If you haven't already read it, I've got a few good reasons you should put it on your TBR, A.S.A.P. Here's why.
The Atrocities opens with Danna Valdez wandering through a hedge maze on her way to her new job as a governess to a wealthy family's troubled daughter. Located within the maze are the titular Atrocities: grotesque statues from the Bible's more disturbing parables that mark the way through the maze. Danna has instructions: "Turn left at the screaming woman with a collapsing face. Turn right at the kneeling man with bleeding sores the size of teacups. If you come across a big-breasted bear with a child’s head in her jaws, you’re going the wrong way."
(That's the first paragraph of Shipp's novella, by the way.)
The atrocities in the maze are nothing compared to what Danna finds inside Stockton House, which is covered in disturbing paintings of people whose bodies have been abused and twisted into unimaginable contortions. Her narration tells us that "Each canvass houses an emaciated figure draped in tattered strips of gossamer. Wings made of human fingers spread out from their backs, and their ashen skin stretches tight over their bones like shrink-wrap. None of their faces have eyebrows or teeth or lips."
As it turns out, these paintings are the work of Isabella's father, Mr Evers. His daughter is dead, but he still wants Danna to be her governess, because his wife has possibly gone insane from the loss of their child. Either that, or Isabella's ghost really does linger in the house, visible only to her mother. In any case, Mr Evers wants to keep Danna on to help his wife sort through her madness and grief.
At just over 100 pages, The Atrocities is short, but the time I spent in Stockton House made me feel like Coraline exploring the Other World. Around every corner, there seemed to lurk some frightening element that hardly fazed Danna, but gave me all of the creeps. Stockton House truly feels like it occupies a space separated entirely from the real world, and the new governess' position as an outsider in Isabella's haunted house calls to mind the "Playtest" episode of Black Mirror, which follows a broke traveler through a house of horrors designed to learn exactly what scares him.
The surreality of both Mr Evers' artwork and Mrs Evers' bizarre behavior made me feel as if we might learn that it was all a dream at any moment. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I definitely recommend picking up Jeremy C. Shipp's The Atrocities to read for yourself.