The Unheimlich Manoeuvre – Tracy Fahey
Reviewed by D.K. Hundt
Tracy Fahey, an Irish writer of Gothic fiction, is published in more than twenty US and UK anthologies. The Girl In The Fort, her first novel, was published by Fox Spirit Press in 2017, and Black Shuck Books released her second collection, New Music For Old Rituals in 2018. Two of her short stories, ‘Walking The Borderlines’ and ‘Under The Whitethorn’ were longlisted for Honourable Mentions in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 8. In 2017, her debut collection, the second edition released this year and featured in this review is, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award. This new edition contains revised versions of the original stories and a brand-new tale, ‘Something Nasty In The Woodpile.’
When I chose this book for review, the title intrigued and puzzled me at the same time, until I read the description within that states, ‘just as the Heimlich Manoeuvre restores order, health, and well-being, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre does quite the opposite,’ and I couldn’t agree more. This novel explores physiological horror, and a couple of the thirteen short stories I would describe as Domestic-Noir with an even darker edge, if such a thing is possible, and trust me it is. If you’re looking for a happy, neatly tied up ending after reading each of these stories, you won’t find it in this book. What you may feel is empathy, shock, possibly anger, and a sense of hope for these characters, some of which are dangling by a thread of sanity, when, by stories end, their nightmares are just beginning. Some readers may find the need closure at the end of each tale, but, I feel doing so would dilute the darker side of each, the endings that pack such a punch that leave you speculating how it all turns out, those are my favorites.
I won’t include all thirteen stories in this review, but I will touch on some of my favorites. The novel opens with ‘Coming Back,’ a story about a woman who wakes up from a coma with no recollection of who she is, nothing but darkness in the skin she’s now in, desperately trying to find the light.
‘People like you, who become so severely ill, often find it difficult to remember things.’ ‘Don’t try; it’s a good kind of amnesia . . .’
The second tale in the collection is called the ‘Ghost Estate Phase II,’ told from the second person point of view; an unknown narrator is deciding your every move.
‘After what’s happened, you don’t cope too well. Things are ugly and strange . . .The familiar things about you turn hard and hostile . . .The only thing that makes sense is to leave. So you do.’ A friend offers you her house to stay in, a ghost estate. ‘Don’t expect anything,’ she warns. ‘It’ll be awful,’ and she’s right, but your free, or are you?
‘Walking The Borderlines’ is told from the first-person point of view, the narrator is writing a story from the year she turned twenty, some fifteen years ago, about the man she met while traveling, and what came back.
‘‘I’m sitting here, trying to remember what happened fifteen years ago. I remember lots of disjointed things about that Parisian summer; like a recovering amnesiac . . .’ ‘I had that inflated, giddying feeling when you meet someone you click with; when you can think of nothing more intoxicating than becoming the friend of this new, fascinating person.’’
When one of their conversations moves to a particular topic, I had an idea as to how this story would play out, but I was wrong in one aspect of the narrative and right in the other, and to say any more would spoil it for you.
‘Long Shadows‘ is a story about a woman who sees a therapist, Dr. Smith, to talk about her reoccurring dreams that now are interfering with her day to day life.
‘They keep coming, night after night. Again and again. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t want to sleep –where I’m afraid to sleep.’
‘The Woman Next Door’ is hands down one of my top favorites in this collection, an ending that I didn’t see coming, though I should have. Fahey does an excellent job telling this story about a new mother who has a love-hate relationship with her newborn.
‘‘I’m tired all the time since he came. Tired and overwhelmed and overpowered by it all; the feelings, the smells, the sounds, the weight and feel of him . . .’ ‘Now he’s out, we’re apart yet never-apart, all at once. I love him. I resent him. He’s the biggest thing that ever happened to me.’’
Laura, the main character, loves her newborn but misses how things were when she was thin, working, wearing nice clothes instead of a tracksuit, and hair that isn’t knotted and pulled back in a ponytail. Her new neighbor on the other hand, who also has a baby, is ‘glossy and pretty in a carefully-manicured way,’ and Laura is jealous of her perfection, and that’s all I’m going to tell you.
‘Tracing The Spectre’ is about a small group of interdisciplinary international artists who are given twenty-four hours to conduct an artist-led paranormal investigation in Knocknamara Castle in Ireland. The narrator, a photographer, is one of the five individuals chosen for this project who come from different parts of the world and have unique personalities. I’d love to see this made into a novella or novel.
‘‘Afterwards it’s hard to recall the exact sequence of events. Some stand out, light-bright . . .’ ‘And some of them can never be forgotten.’’
‘Papering Over The Cracks’ is about a married couple who are renovating their dream home, a Georgian mansion with four floors including a basement and attic. Mark, an architect, loves Georgian period architecture and is one of the things that first attracted Donna to him, though secretly she prefers the Victorian style. To please her, Mark offers her the attic room, a place to decorate and call her own. It’s on the third day of renovating, as she strips away the 1970s wallpaper in the attic, she finds a drawing that ‘stirs something within her, a lively, impatient curiosity to find out where it comes from,’ that soon turns into an obsession.
‘Something Nasty In The Woodshed’ is a tale that’s divided into reflections of the narrator’s life before and after making such a horrific discovery in the woodshed.
‘Before evokes visions of a pristine kitchen table, dappled with yellow-green sunlight and neatly laid with folded napkins. Even if there were long days of physical pain, they were filled with love, and soft pillows and hand-holding. After? Well, after is a different story.’
‘Sealed’ is a story about a fourteen-year-old girl living in a single parent household who wants nothing more than for her mother to come and see her dance recital. When her mother is unable, though she tries, harsh words are spoken that can never be unsaid, changing the teenager’s life forever.
‘Look Like You. I Speak Like You. I Walk Like You’ is about twin girls, Susie and Stella, who are separated and adopted by different families at a young age when something horrific happens to their mother. There isn’t a lot I can say about this story without giving too much away. I will say this, think Domestic-Noir with a sadistic twist.
‘When I close my eyes I picture us like this, twinned and embryo-close, secure within our black and white bubble. I see our one true tale diverge and then splinter into fractured narratives.’
If my review or the synopsis of The Unheimlich Manoeuvre sparked your interest, then, by all means, take a bite, and delve into the creative mind of the author – you may be surprised by what you find lurking within.
The Unheimlich Manoeuvre
The Unheimlich Manoeuvre explores the psychological horror that occurs when home is subverted as a place of safety, when it becomes surreal, changes and even disappears…
In these stories, a coma patient wakes to find herself replaced by a doppelgänger, a ghost state reflects doubles of both houses and inhabitants, a suburban enclave takes control of its trespassers, and a beaten woman exacts revenge.
Just as the Heimlich Manoeuvre restores order, health and well-being, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre does quite the opposite.
D. K. Hundt is an American writer with a BA degree in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. When she’s not writing contemporary fiction and horror/supernatural stories, she likes to spend her free time working as a volunteer in her community, being a minion for her cat Simon, warding off carnivorous spiders, and throwing herself into and around the dark alleyways of Stephen King novels in search of inspiration. D. K. resides in California with her husband, and she is currently working on a horror novel titled, Cheveyo–a story about a young boy who goes to live with his grandpa on a reservation, and soon discovers that the malevolent creatures that lurk in the Okanogan Forest aren’t the only deadly secret the locals are hiding.
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