Author: Alice Stone
Genre: Horror/Body horror
Publication Date: Spring 2021
Available As: e-book
An unnamed character lives with their mentally and physically deficient father. As their father’s condition worsens, the character attempts to find solace in fishing but is haunted by horror stories of a deadly moss and mysterious boils on their father’s legs…
I’ve mentioned before in this ‘Author’s Spotlight’ section that, for a PhD graduate, I’m not exactly the most well-read person; however, I have read quite a bit in my time and I honestly cannot remember seeing many, if any, stories written from a second person perspective like The Muscus is. Stone doesn’t provide us with the name or gender of her narrator and instead opts to tell her story in the form of directions (e.g. “You do this/you do that”), which is incredibly unique. It’s like being given stage directions and is a very interesting and distinctive way to engage a reader.
The central focus of The Muscus is the difficulty the main character (essentially you) has in coping with the degenerating condition of their father, who simply sits staring vacantly at the television and voraciously eating whatever is put in front of him. With their father little more than a mute, mindless husk, the state of the house has also suffered as the main character has grown disinterested in keeping things clean and tidy and has simply fallen into a routine of feeding their father and spending as much time out of the house as possible.
The author uses the main character’s fishing trips as a great excuse to tell a story within the story, a concept that has been used before but, for me, immediately recalls the campfire horror tales told by the main characters in The Body (King, 1982). This side story plays a significant part in the author’s main narrative not just because it’s a cautionary tale to discourage fishing in, or wandering around, Willmore Lake but also because it gives the author a chance to flex her body horror muscles.
Her descriptions of the father’s physical state also verge on the uncomfortable and disgusting; at first, it seems a normal case of him having retreated into himself or succumbing to a debilitating mental disease and like he’s developed a simple case of poor hygiene and bed sores due to the main character’s negligence. However, after introducing the concept of a horrifying form of moss, the story takes a sudden turn towards the father’s horrific physical transformation (and malformation) due to a festering infection. This dramatic and revolting finale is the perfect coda to what is a pretty well stylised and disturbing tale; Alice Stone doesn’t shy away from describing the visceral nature of her body horror and it immediately brings to mind the works of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg (at least, it does for me). If the author was looking to shock and disgust the reader, then she succeeded admirably and it makes for an intense, engaging, and entertainingly shocking little slice of nightmarish horror that is definitely one of the most unique indie tales I’ve read.
If you’re interested in checking out The Muscus, and to follow Alice’s journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.