The Moon Will Look Strange by Lynda E Rucker – a review by Gary Fry
My overriding impression after reading Lynda Rucker’s first collection of short stories is that of a writer who loves both horror fiction and mainstream literature. Her fiction draws upon traditional figures in the field – demons, supernatural entities, witches – without doing anything as commonplace as evoking them on the page.
This sense of suggestive, backstage malevolence lends each narrative an unstable framework, and although the tales explore the internal/external world of people “just like you and me”, they occupy a slightly unreal world where an invasion by the outré is just a rapid heartbeat away.
These are delicate pieces and reward slow consumption. In ‘Ash Mouth’ a disquieting entity is invoked, and if it never puts in a physical appearance, that’s testament to Rucker’s multi-sensorial prose, the way scent and sounds are as important to perception as any descriptive imagery.
Indeed, it’s in examining the nebulous world of psychological engagement in daily life that Rucker thrives. Her common theme concerns relationships and the losses often involved in them. ‘Beneath the Drops’ is Aickmanian in its depiction of a disintegrating partner, a marriage slowly getting pulled apart drip by drip. Another of Rucker’s themes appears to be the privacy and personal nature of art and how sharing one’s creations is a risky business, a baring of one’s fundamental core.
The psychological impact of environment and location is also placed under scrutiny, both that which is alien – as in ‘Chance Walker’, whose conclusion put me in mind of that spooky episode in Aickman’s ‘The Stains’, with the father prowling outside a property occupied by two isolated people – and that which is familiar, as in ‘These Things We Have Always Known’ where a hometown functions like some weird kind of gravity well.
Other tales explore the play of the past in the present, such as ‘Different Angel’ dramatizing the dangers and revelations involved in “going back home”. In the lycanthropic violation depicted in ‘The Moon Will Look Strange’ and the ghostly ‘These Foolish Things’ and ‘Burned House’, Rucker takes on grief, the loss of someone permanently. Indeed, loss in all its variousness appears to be the theme of this book.
On a personal note, my three favourite stories here were ‘Death’s Other Kingdom’, a story which captures the duality of psychological experience in a potently ambiguous way; ‘No More A-Roving’, a story as elusively thought-provoking as the “strange tales” of its spiritual heir Aickman; and – simply because it felt incongruously like a suspense-driven story – ‘The Last Reel’, in which some genuinely spooky scenes occur, even though it’s not resolved in any traditionally unpleasant way (and that’s very definitely a good thing).
All in all, this is not a book to read in any great hurry. Its rewards often lie amid the copiously rich detail Rucker provides. Her explorations of psychological engagement in everyday life, with all its subtle relationships and carefully managed emotion, are nuanced, elusive and memorable. But please be aware: you’ll need to do as much work as the author to get the best from it.
You can grab a signed copy here: https://lyndaerucker.wordpress.com/the-moon-will-look-strange/