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by Jill Dearman

Pub Date: June 20th, 2023
ISBN: 9798987839867
Publisher: The Shortish Project

Dearman reimagines the classic tale of Jekyll and Hyde as a transition narrative in this queer horror novella.

Ella is struggling with the transition of her partner, Simon (formerly Simone). Even as she tries to support him, she misses the female body that she fell in love with. The two have the opportunity to start anew when Ella inherits an old inn from her grandmother in Hudson, New York. In the inn’s basement, Ella finds a diary from 1933. It tells the story of Jeannette Diamond, the bookish daughter of the original innkeeper, who spends her time studying spiritualist texts with her friend Dahlia. Jeannette has romantic feelings for Dahlia, but when Dahlia rebuffs her by saying she’s only interested in men, Jeannette decides she’ll simply use her occult books to turn herself into one. After many feverish attempts and failures, she finally succeeds: “To her astonishment, her jaw jutted out and her face seemed wider, though her nose more narrow. Brows now thickened framed dark eyes, which appeared more sunken in. A tickling of stubble covered lip and chin and felt coarse against her fingers.” But can Gilles Du Mont, as she names herself, win Dahlia’s heart before she marries another man? Or will this dark magic lead only to dark results? The author’s stylish prose possesses the right combination of camp and terror to animate this Gothic horror: “The blood washed over the clear fluid inside the syringe, giving it the slightest pink hue. With a good vein in her left arm begging to be punctured, she wrapped the rubber tubing over her bicep, tied a workable knot and pulled it taut with her teeth.” Dearman cleverly pushes the Jekyll and Hyde premise toward an exploration of gender and desire, finding a way to tie it back toward the framing narrative of Ella and Simon. Like all great horror, it capitalizes on a recognizable human insecurity, in this case one that feels particularly timely.

A pointed contemporary twist on a classic horror setup.