Wednesday, August 8, 2012

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #93: A review of "The Family Underwater" by Lucy Taylor

This is probably the strangest tale that Pelan has ever selected for any anthology he’s ever done. Right off the bat, you should be warned that it doesn’t belong in this book. That’s not to say it’s a bad story; in fact, it’s brilliant. Back then, it’s no surprise that people would have labeled it a horror story, but nowadays, we know better; this is a prime example of what we know of now as BIZARRO FICTION.

The unnamed narrator of this one comes home from school one day in her fifteenth year to discover that her house is entirely filled with water. No, there hasn’t been a flood. It is only her house full of water. She peers in the window to see her mother and sister swimming around, living their regular lives as if there is nothing wrong with this situation. She then sees her drunken father arrive home, sloppily make his way up the walk, and open the front door. Instead of creating a drain for the water, this shows a watery portal, kind of like the wormhole in STARGATE. He walks in and then starts swimming around, doing the stuff he usually does, like beat his wife.

The narrator goes in and is surprised to find that she can breathe in this water. Before long, she acclimates herself to this strange lifestyle. Babette, her sister, finds this odd because their house has always been filled with water; apparently, our narrator has never noticed this. And then comes the day that their father turns into a shark and eats poor Babette whole . . . .

How is that for a fucked up tale? It seems nonsensical at first, but there is a deeper meaning. That’s where most bizarro writers fuck up: they spend so much time trying to impress a reader with how weird a story is that they forget the entire point of writing it. Taylor isn’t a fool; she knows what she’s doing.

SPOILER ALERT: The narrator escapes from the house, where the shark can’t follow her, and she grows up to adulthood living on dry land. But the problem is, she never seems to fit in. She misses too much of her upbringing. To seal the deal on this story, Taylor depicts the narrator running into a sneering, cruel young man on her way home, and he just gets her all wet and horny and ready to fuck. When he takes her back to his apartment, she sees that it’s full of water. They fuck like fish, and she feels like she’s come home.

This is a truly brilliant depiction of an abusive home and the lifelong results of living in one. Of course our narrator winds up with someone exactly like her father. Of course she feels alienated by the regular world. This story is a shrink’s playground. END OF SPOILERS.

Should Pelan ever edit a book called THE CENTURY’S BEST BIZARRO FICTION (and what a slim volume that would be!), he should include this tale there. While it really doesn’t belong here, it is a story you’ll never forget.

[This story first appeared in CLOSE TO THE BONE and cannot be read online at this time.]

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