Reflecting on my earliest childhood encounters with horror, I remember being initially attracted to the genre’s visual iconography, above all else. It seems impossible to separate my desire to write horror from my interest in reading horror. These two things are inextricably bound.
What authors influenced you growing up? Who are you reading now?
As a young kid, I was really excited by J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and R. L. Stine. Discovering Stephen King as a preteen was a big deal, and the same goes for encountering Hubert Selby Jr. in my teens.
These days, I try to read as widely as possible. I’m currently making my way through Drawn Up from Deep Places, by Gemma Files, which is terrific. I was recently floored by two Henry James novels—The Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians.
Kristi DeMeester’s Everything That’s Underneath reads something like a creative thesis on horror fiction’s inherently allegorical potential. The story’s title speaks to the collection’s persisting concerns. Namely, the book faces the menace undergirding polite society, and the unseen specters clawing at the outskirts of consciousness, even of reality itself (consider, for example, the title story, “Birthright,” and “Split Tongues”).
The author navigates lived-in, conflicted protagonists through plots whose threats are often shapeshifting, amorphous, and inscrutable. DeMeester demonstrates a mastery of withholding detail while doling out just enough information to pry her way under the reader’s skin. This is one of the most difficult tasks the horror writer faces: if we show too much, we risk deflating the tension, but if we show too little, we might seem like we’re bluffing or shying away from the dark stuff. DeMeester never misses the mark in this regard, depicting horrific presences that push against the thin membrane separating reality and that which is underneath.
The book displays an extremely impressive knack for character psychology, using heightened sensory experiences and drives as catalysts to confront supernatural forces. Consider the characters’ sexual lust propelling the narratives in “The Fleshtival,” “Daughters of Hecate,” and “Split Tongues,” or the yearning to undo loss in the title story and “To Sleep in the Dust of the Earth.” DeMeester is unflinching in her exploration of her characters’ desires, which lends itself to a convincing sense of realism in their motivations and actions.
Driven by challenging thematic interests and a stunning prose style, this book ranks among the best dark fiction collections of the past ten years. Think S. P. Miskowski, Gwendolyn Kiste, Kathe Koja … yes, DeMeester is that good. This is the work of a major talent, and an absolute must-read for anyone interested in contemporary weird fiction.