A “weird tale,” Ann and Jeff VanderMeer tell us in their compendium The Weird, is “fiction in which some other element, like weird ritual or the science fictional, replaces the supernatural while providing the same dark frisson of the unknown.”
Though writers such as Lovecraft have become the face of the Weird tale, many women have written such stories: Joyce Carol Oates, Caitlín R. Kiernan and Shirley Jackson, to name a few. My five selections cannot encompass the whole breath and variety of such writers but I hope they are a delicious samples of the uncanny.
The Cipher by Kathe Koja
Koja has published several novels and many short stories. I am signalling her debut novel precisely because it is her debut, and a solid one. A dysfunctional, marginalized young couple find a hole in their rundown building. But of course, it’s not just a hole. Something dark resides in there and if you place, say, a mouse, in the hole it comes back changed. It’s bleak stuff, completely matching the nihilism of the 90s and terrifying because…well…how do you fight a hole? It’s not a vampire which can be staked or a zombie which can be decapitated. It’s just there, a malevolent force invading the most mundane of lives.
Kissing Carrion by Gemma Files
This, one of several short collections by Canadian writer Gemma Files, has recently been re-released by Chizine, making it available in e-book format. Files writes beautifully about a range of odd people and topics, including corpses used as puppets for the purpose of necrophilia. It’s all very dark and very well done. Files, who used to be in the movie business, is also the author of several novels including the forthcoming Experimental Film and a series of Weird Westerns, the Hexslinger series. Personal disclosure: I have included Files in a couple of anthologies I have edited, including She Walks in Shadows.
Don’t Look Now And Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
Du Maurier was utterly prolific in every category possible, but she is probably best remembered for the film adaptations of Rebecca, The Birds and Don’t Look Now. Her short story collections have been re-released in recent years. Don’t Look Now And Other Stories contains the title story, about a family vacationing in Venice, as well as the aforementioned “The Birds,” which surely was the inspiration for every zombie film ever: its motif of people trapped in a house, trying to survive a mysterious attack, reads awfully like Night of the Living Dead, though most people credit the zombie genesis to Matheson.
The Woman with the Flying Head and Other Stories by Yumiko Kurahashi
Japanese women writers have traditionally been known for their realistic, autobiographical fiction. In the 1960s Kurakashi distinguished herself from her contemporaries due to her subject matter and post modernist techniques, which were deemed controversial. The stories contained in this, her first collection translated into English, are often dark and disturbing, with a dreamlike texture. Her most popular book is Cruel Fairy-tales for Adults, published in 1984.
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa
An award-winning writing who is probably better known by the “literary” set than speculative readers, Ogawa’s recent short story collection weaves together a series of interlinked tales, which ultimately form a tapestry of the bizarre. There’s something unsettling in each story, from carrots growing in the shape of human hands to a visit to a torture museum. There are no monsters here, the bizarreness is kept at a realistic level, and you feel like you just wandered into a David Lynch film.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of Signal to Noise, a novel of magic, music and Mexico City. She recently co-edited She Walks in Shadows, the first all-woman anthology inspired by the work of Lovecraft. Her in-progress thesis centres on eugenics in the work of Lovecraft.