Between man-eating insects, a fashionably dressed sister-wolf, and a hypnotic feminist girl band, Armfield leaves no supernatural stone unturned in this dazzling debut.
Writing with an elegant and often poetic style, British author Armfield conjures nine uncanny worlds in her first short story collection. And while her tales are notable for their concepts, they don't lack in substance, either. Behind each of her stories lie undercurrents of loss, metamorphosis, and the ever shifting nature of human relationships. The horror of her work comes not only from the eerie occurrences on each page, but also in the relatability of her characters and the connections a reader can draw between their situations and the absurdity of everyday life. In “Formerly Feral,” for example, an adolescent girl copes with her parents’ divorce, her father’s remarriage, and her own shifting identity as she faces school bullies and bonds with the newest member of her family—a wolf. “Smack” also deals with divorce but depicts the breakup of a marriage through the eyes of a wife holding on to her disintegrating relationship by locking herself—sans nutrition or power —in the beach house she and her husband once shared. Perhaps most extraordinary is “The Great Awake,” which captures the sleeplessness of city life and the bitter, competitive spirit that accompanies it. In this strange world, plagued by the “removal of the sleep-state from the body,” shadelike “Sleeps” step out of their human hosts while the tired people left behind reshape society to take advantage of the mass insomnia. The title story, meanwhile, follows a couple navigating both the salt waters that have flooded the Earth and their unspoken feelings about their future. While a story or two ends abruptly or doesn’t delve quite as deeply as the most spectacular in the collection, each piece is filled with magic, insight, and a rare level of creativity that mark Armfield as a fresh new voice of magical realism.
Artistic and perceptive, Armfield’s debut explores the ebbs and flows of human connection in lives touched by the bizarre.