I’ve recently discovered a new term, and it describes Helen McClory’s writing perfectly: mythic realism. Aptly titled On the Edges of Vision, this collection offers a precipitous sense of standing on the edge of something, of glimpsing a view of a world just like the one we live in, only with extraordinary neighbours. These creatures are familiar from ancient tales yet fresh on the page, mingling with everyday folk.
There’s a hint of warning swimming through the words, a reminder that venturing out after dark isn’t always a good idea, a hint that the things we fear aren’t always the right things – that dread, and death, can rush up from unexpected sources.
There’s such a pace to McClory’s writing that you may find yourself careering from start to end, crashing through the undergrowth before halting, blood shrill in your ears, at the cliff-edge, wondering why there’s nothing ahead but dizzying emptiness.Dead girls take a break for a coffee and a smoke. Undead girls stare into faceless mirrors. Cinema-goers bear arms and picnics may include sandwiches stuffed with human flesh. Descriptions are vivid and unexpected – uncanny birth parents have faces “the colour of smashed raspberries”, and smiles “confused by a thousand crossing needle-teeth.” Librarians “carve their initials in the wood of their desks using their antlers.” The writing is raw, and poetic, as in The Drowned Sailors: “You like the smell; that’s what you’ll miss. You like the smell of rot on the shore where we staggered to stay.”
Many of the characters feel a little lost, a little lonely – searching for a way to feel less alienated. Chance encounters have equal potential to disturb or enthral. In one of my favourites, Pecan Pie, diner waitress Bernina serves a man with fingertips so blackened it’s as though “they’ve been dipped in ink.”
The stories illustrate moments, centred on characters often at odds with the world in which they sit. Not Bernina, though. She seems so at ease, even when she recognises the stranger, that it’s strangely comforting to read.
Most of the tales have a sense of ‘old stories’ about them – it’s like rediscovering ancient superstitions populated by familiar ghosts. McClory, now living in Edinburgh, describes herself as being “born and educated in Scotland”, and grew up on the Isle of Skye. She’s also been resident in Sydney, New York and Alberta, Canada, suggesting a wealth of influences. The timeless and new sit easily together, reminding us that some things never change, that in every era, in every place, someone will be lonely, someone will be misunderstood, and there’s always a possibility they will do something chilling and unexpected in response to that.
I’m always happy to find out what you’re reading. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.