I was recently fortunate enough to receive an eARC of Monstrosity, a new short story collection that will be released by Florida-based Smoking Mirror Press in July.
Laura Diaz de Arce’s debut collection is divided into three parts: HOMINUM, MUTATIO, and MONSTRUM, each signifying a step in the de-evolution (or evolution, depending on how you look at it) from human to monster.
One of the collection’s strongest points is its passionately character-driven tales. Almost every single story has a female protagonist. I wouldn’t categorize all of these women and girls as “strong” or even likeable. That’s not the point. The spectrum of characters in this collection show how much or how little of a monster that a woman, like any human, can be. Additionally, the kind of monster or her background varies widely: a swamp monster queen shows more mercy than a Lana Del Rey doppelganger. Mercy and empathy don’t matter at all in some cases; many of the stories look at nature and outer space as neutral entities, and the “monsters” involved are simply trying to survive.
I was especially impressed with how well such a broad range of stories went together; the collection includes deep space sci-fi, uncanny valley horror, Latinx folk tales, fairy tales, and a couple cathartic sex stories in between. Nearly all of them worked together harmoniously.
The highlights of the collection for me were all from the MUTATIO section. “The Swamp King” is a beautifully crafted fairy tale, “A Promise” may be the most serene body horror tale I’ve ever read, and “Plum Moon” is a deliciously creepy deep-space sci fi story.
A couple of the stories were good, but I felt could have used some better development. “Some Dreams Just Aren’t Worth the Trouble” seemed way too descriptive, which made a very cool concept feel a bit boring. “Mandibles” is a great horror period piece, but falls into some amateur fiction traps – honestly, the only awful part of the whole collection is when a character says “I mean, it’s 1952 for Christ’s sakes!” I audibly groaned; a story with such amazingly graphic detail shouldn’t have to rely on a character saying something so blatant to set the time for the story! Some edits could’ve made the setting obvious much earlier without relying on awkward dialogue.
It may also be good to keep in mind that this collection isn’t for the weak of stomach – Diaz de Arce has a particular taste for body horror, especially stuff that has to do with skin and/or slow suffering. As a hardcore Junji Ito fan, I enjoyed this and found it fitting for the subject at hand. However, I will admit that I wasn’t expecting it to get so graphic. While MUTATIO was by far my favorite section of the collection, it was hard to get through “Change.” I loved the story (especially the ending), but did not expect it to go in that gruesome of a direction.
It was nice to see a collection where women have autonomy for once – and how this autonomy can induce radical results. Murderers, mothers, and moons collide in this collection, and the impact is awesome. It’s few faults are worth ignoring, because the afterimages of these stories will stick with you long after finishing the book.