I’ve heard readers say that they can tell if a piece of fiction is by a female author. That’s not necessarily meant to be an insult, and in fact I hear it most often as a compliment to the literary prowess of women. I was never quite sure if I agreed, and not even really sure I understood how women wrote differently, but I finally think I understand why people make that statement. Reading Sins of the Sirens, I couldn’t help thinking that all these short stories were unlike anything I’d read before. There was something utterly powerful about the emotion evoked by them. But I struggle with how to verbalize what precisely makes these stories standout.
John Everson puts it simply and direct in his introduction to Sins; “Women, by virtue of their gender, do have a subtly different take on language, on seduction, on the boundaries of horror, than men.”
Perhaps it’s that subtly that makes it so difficult to pinpoint. But as Loren Rhoads noted in her interview with Dreadful Tales, it’s been proven reader’s can’t necessarily tell the sex of an author so readily when they are unfamiliar with the work. During a game show at a convention, Rhoads read an excerpt from Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds” and contestants were to guess if the writer was male or female. They guessed Brian Keene!
Still, there is an undeniable electricity in the Sins stories. The writers are all exceptionally talented and brilliant wordsmiths of course, but I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t something to the theory that women write different, whatever that might mean.
But I digress… and I’m rambling!
We wrap up the four day Ladies of Sins of the Sirens today with the three short story contributions from Christa Faust. These days Faust writes more hardboiled crime fiction than horror, but she still deserves a solid place among the women of horror. And this week’s post would be incomplete without her to close out the Sins anthology.
While Faust may not us nightmares with her fiction lately, she is notably the first and only femme to be published by Hard Case Crime, the best in modern crime nior and vintage pulp. A few titles of note are Money Shot, Choke Hold, and Butch Fatale; Dyke Dick.
You can browse her books and follower the “torrid confessions from the underbelly of the pulp racket” on her website.
Now, onto the Sins stories!
We start with “Love, La Llorona” which finds the beautiful and seductive Maxine browsing the market in the heart of Mexico City. She stumbles onto a woman selling DVDs, literally, after a strange encounter with a wet, dirty woman carrying (what appears to be) dead babies. Frightened, Maxine backs away from the muddy, stinking woman, tripping over a blind street vendor. When she finally collects herself after the embarrassing fall she finds the strange apparition is gone. Helping the blind woman clean up the mess, she forgets about her encounter and becomes preoccupied with the bootleg DVDs for sale, in particular a title called La Llorona. Maxine rushes back with her purchase to the hotel she shares with her math genius boyfriend Simon, pops in the DVD, and is immediately entranced by the bizarre and unsettling imagery. She watches specific scenes over and over, continues to play the DVD on repeat completely unaware of the time that has passed. When she begrudgingly goes out dancing with her boyfriend, La Llorona is all she can think about. Maxine must understand the secret story behind the scenes on the disturbing footage, but the closer she gets the more she unravels. La Llorona takes over her will like a mental sickness. “Love, La Llorona” is stomach-churning. The reader is left with that heavy, nauseous feeling you get from watching mondo films. Faust’s bite-size fright is not really graphic or particularly goretastic, but the real life horror on tape is reminiscent of that candid stock footage of shock. I remember that apprehensive feeling before watching one of those “real life” carnage videos, but being unable to resist the impulse to watch. You feel that through Maxine in “Love, La Llorona.”
“Firebird,” like “Heavy Hands,” is a Sins of the Sirens exclusive. Our protagonist Ivy is addicted to Nita’s love, drugs, and sex with Nita on drugs. Faust’s science-fiction love story (I know, I said no labels, but I can’t help it!) starts as a dramatic piece dealing with love and loss, life after death, and revenge. But as the story progresses, Faust takes the reader into a future world where the dead can be brought back and you can get your fix through a golden box. Everson called “Firebird” “a novelette tour de force that brings to bear the gritty despair of the addicted with a Bladerunner-dark sci-fi setpiece and a hero worthy of sequelization.” Damn you, Everson! I couldn’t say it better than that. It’s Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and “The Three Stigmata of Eldrich Palmer” grounded in the underbelly of the drug world!
Every book has an end and Sins goes down kicking and screaming, grabbing onto your hair for dear life. Ouch! Faust’s final story leaves a memorable impression, like handcuffs locked just a little tight. But if you’re into that sorta thing, you’ll be enamored with “Tighter.” For a Vegas vixen, Persephone, that’s all she can think about. Persephone wants to struggle, wants to be contained. She likes to be tied up, but it’s never enough, she aches for the ropes to be tighter. One day she finally meets her match. Kevin seems like the perfect fit. He ties a mean, boa constrictor-strength knot, the only man who can successfully restrain her. But whose appetite can’t be satiated? What do you do when “tighter” is never enough? This is an aching story about unrequited desire that has an unpredictable, completely unconventional ending. Then again, Faust’s stories are anything but conventional.
I’m reluctant to call Sins of the Sirens horror, but this is a collection I think horror fans will dig. It was published four years ago, but still stands as the type of book to get the jaded reader excited about fiction again. All the Sirens are on to new, great things, but we will always have Sins to come back to.