Here is Resurrection Mary—Rhee for short—standing by the side of a lonely, dark road, hitchhiking during the darkest hours of the night, terrorizing the same stretch of that highway for as long as she can remember. Inhaling every breath of fear caused by her apparition (and perhaps even relishing it), every night ends the same way—at the cemetery she was once told she was buried (if only she could remember her own name she could find her resting place). She is nearly always alone although sometimes a man called David picks her up—he is a friend who has been doing so since he was a teenager but now time is passing and he is not so young, and has a wife and a young daughter. Always just before sunrise, Mary is pulled back home, a decrepit mansion in the middle of nowhere where she shares her evening and her scares with her sisters.
For Mary is not the only Mary: there is Bloody Mary, trapped in an antique mirror, answering to whomever dares call her name three times; there is also Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary walking around with her poisonous flowers and vines as well as Mary Mack, forever compelled to build her own coffin. Lesser known but still terrifying is Mari Lwyd, carrying her horse skull under her arm.
Pretty Marys, Urban Legend Marys, Horror Marys: all of them spend their evenings in their own haunts, all coming back to the same house to feed from each other’s takings. At the end of the evening, each goes back to their own room to wake up the next evening and do it all over again (the next evening for them of course, it could be days, months, years to the outside world).
They don’t know how they got there, they barely remember who they are (who ARE they?) but they know they can’t get away (they tried. It didn’t work that well). Trapped in a pattern that repeats itself constantly, the Marys bicker, fight, share and love.
There is no rest for the wicked, they say. The Marys know it.
But then one night, as she is being pulled back home, Rhee hears a voice calling to her—“Pretty Mary. Pretty, pretty Mary”—in the darkness. A voice that haunts her, scares her. It follows her to the house and all of a sudden—prompted by fear and rage—Mary can do things she couldn’t before. As darkness threatens to destroy the only lives they know, the Marys have one last chance to fight back before they disappear forever.
One of the most delicious things about being a reader/reviewer is finding out gems from smaller publishers through recommendations from other readers. That word of mouth loop is a connective tissue as strong as the bonds between the Marys in the lovely novella Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste.
Genuinely scary at times yet always touching, dark yet hopeful, this is a novella about legends and stories and how different Marys inhabit them. It is also above all, a story about empowerment, sisterhood and found families—the Marys rely on each other for food and sustenance—and sustenance sometimes is emotional nourishment and the Marys are all of that to each other. It is about the bonds forged between the Marys, between Rhee and David, even between the Marys and their regular haunts, all of it the foundation from which the author builds a beautiful, bittersweet story that somehow manages to be all of this and more.
Highly, HIGHLY recommended.
In Booksmugglerish: 8 Marys out of 10.