"Furnace" Book Review
Written by Matt E. Lewis
Published by Word Horde
Written by Livia Llewellyn
2016, 210 pages, Fiction
Released on February 15th, 2016
True to the title, Livia Llewellyn's collection of short stories is a white-hot forge where horror, erotica, and weird fiction are melted together into something dark, seductive, and dangerous.
Many of Llewellyn's stories are imbued with a gothic style right down to their DNA, but use the medium as a means of transcendence rather than limitation. Stories like "Yours is the Right to Begin", a sort of alternate re-telling of Dracula, takes our expectations and flips them into a dark dimension of undying terror, exploring the perspectives of the oft-overlooked female characters of the story.
These tales are slathered with dark, flourishing prose reminiscent of Angela Carter, and nearly all delve into the deeply erotic nature of horror with a penchant for detail one might find in an Anne Rice novel. But this collection is far from one note: stories like "It Feels Better Biting Down" and "Wasp & Snake" dive headfirst into the kind of violent, manic uncanniness which you might find in the writing of Amelia Gray. "Cinerous" and "In the Court of King Cupressaceae,1982" tell disquieting alternate history stories from revolution-era France and small town America (respectively) where the female protagonists rise from already twisted circumstances and enter the realm of cosmic terror. In both instances, the processes described in the accounts, both gruesome and arousing, are lushly illustrated by her talented hand.
Llewellyn also lends her talents to stories with more 'traditional' structure, meaning they could easily be transferred into the kind of storylines you might find on shows like "Black Mirror". Stories like "Stabilimentum", where a woman is haunted by hordes of spiders, or the psychosexual transformation in "The Lord of the Hunt" have that old-fashioned serial feel, like something you might see on "Tales from the Crypt" - although Llewellyn's unique touch would probably make them too hot for TV. Their loss, of course. But the most impressive pieces are those that experiment with form, like the unsettling inquisition of "Panopticon", the maddening repetition of events in "Allocthon", the disquieting demonic Craigslist advert of "And Love Shall Hold No Dominion", and even the titular "Furnace", which reads like a Bradbury-esque nightmare by way of Brian Evenson.
The stand-outs of the collection include "The Last Clean, Bright Summer", a harrowing account of a teenage girl and her family's 'reunion' at the seashore. The story is riddled with a deeply personal kind of gore and violence, and Llewellyn does not hold back when it comes to creating scenes that are clearly metaphors for the very real horrors which young women are threatened with every day. It is Llewellyn's female perspective that propels so many of these stories into fascinating new dimensions, reveling in a kind of brutality that a male writer would be hard-pressed to imitate. Even the final story, "The Unattainable", which reads much more like straightforward erotica, possesses an element of menace that electrifies the text, like a parasite buried beneath the skin. The ethos of this collection can be found in the strange and short tale called "The Mysteries", where a woman imprisoned by 'The Grand' makes a deal with a carnival barker to free herself. "I am compelled to caution you," he warns, "Your body will change. Your mind will change. And there will be pain."
"I'm a woman," she replies. "There always is."