There comes a time in almost every marriage when one’s spouse seems remarkably different from the person they married. The person you thought you knew better than anyone else on earth becomes a stranger, and you wonder if you ever knew them at all. Fortunately, many such marital crises resolve on their own with little or no damage to either party. But there are exceptions. A horrifying example of one such exception is found in Mother, the terrifying new novella from Philip Fracassi.
Mother is the story of Howard and Julie, who meet in college and find happiness in each other’s arms. After three years together, they marry and move far away from their college town to West Virginia (in itself a terrifying proposition), where they hope to build a happy life together.
Unfortunately, things go wrong almost from the start. Howard accepts a teaching position at a local community college, while Julie stays home to concentrate on her art. Howard is happy enough, but Julie becomes dissatisfied almost immediately. She doesn’t fit in with Howard’s friends, and has little success in finding a gallery that will showcase her work. Before long, their once promising partnership falters.
As the first years of their marriage pass, Julie goes from being merely bored and distant to exhibiting behavior that is both secretive and bizarre. When Howard discovers her standing naked in her studio amidst some bizarre occult symbols, he very correctly worries that things have gone too far. As he delves deeper into his wife’s hidden affairs, the secrets he uncovers will endanger not only his marriage, but his very soul.
One of the things that makes Mother so successful is Fracassi’s superior writing. His development of the two main characters is superb. I found myself identifying with them early on, and as a result I was invested in their success or failure. When things began to go wrong for Howard and Julie, I found myself genuinely concerned for their future. As a writer, I can tell you that creating such vivid and relatable characters is no easy feat.
Fracassi also does a wonderful job of establishing and building mood. As Howard and Julie’s relationship progressed, I felt my own emotions running the gamut, from happy optimism on their wedding day to general discomfort as their partnership began to collapse, to sheer terror once their story reaches its terrifying climax.
And believe me, it is a terrifying climax, one worthy of Lovecraft himself. The last few pages of Mother scared the hell out of me, and coming from someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes horror, that takes some doing. I also found Mother’s ending to be reminiscent of Stephen King’s Revival, a novel I consider to be this century’s most significant contribution to weird fiction.
Although Philip Fracassi is already an accomplished screenwriter and novelist, Mother is his first attempt at horror. After reading it, I hope it won’t be his last.
You can follow Philip Fracassi at his blog and on Twitter.