Monday, November 22, 2010

"Orpheus and the Pearl" by Kim Paffenroth

This is one of two novellas that appear in the first volume of Belfire Press's "Duel" Novella Series. You can learn more about this series by visiting Belfire Press. Look for my review of David Dunwoody's Nevermore tomorrow.

Whenever I hear tell of Kim Paffenroth, it's usually in the context of the zombie genre. The man knows zombies. And given this was the first time I've had a chance to read his work, I was fully expecting some gruesome undead fare. And while there is a character risen from the dead in Orpheus and the Pearl, she is not a zombie--at least it's not explicitly stated that she is.

Set in the backdrop of Massachusetts during the early twentieth century, Dr. Catherine MacGuire is called to the residence of Dr. Percy Wallston on an urgent matter concerning one of his patients, a woman in dire need of psychoanalysis. MacGuire is versed in the teaching of Freud and the workings of the mind, a relatively new form of the science, which is exactly why she was chosen by Wallston. To her dismay, she learns the patient is Wallston's wife, Victoria. All the more unsettling is that Victoria died--or was at least said to have died. In fact, Dr. Wallston has resurrected Victoria with startling, violent results, and he desperately needs Dr. MacGuire to find a way to have his old wife back rather than the ravenous and malicious creature he has sequestered in his home.

Paffenroth's story evokes some of that old world charm, as a horrific affliction is shown against a quaint backdrop. It's the whole juxtaposition of the prim and proper engaging in macabre acts. But it's not an entirely gruesome story, and rather relies more on the tensions between Dr. MacGuire and the Wallstons, both in their interactions with each other and MacGuire's past creeping into the back of her mind. And the ending is not at all what I initially expected, which is good in one sense, but on the other hand the end result felt a bit too--I don't want to say chipper, so let's go with neat and tidy.

All in all, it's a good little story. Something off the beaten path from the onslaught of gory depictions of the undead, and the historical setting resonated much better with me than when I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. If you like tales of the undead with a strong emotional core, this might be the kind of story you'll want to check out.

1 comment: