Short Story Showcase: Keeping House by Michael Blumlein
|Saturated Loneliness by Sconsiderato|
Keeping House was first published in 1990, in Blumleim’s short story collection, The Brains of Rats. It’s also included in I Shudder At Your Touch, an anthology of horror tales edited by Michele Slung revolving around the themes of sex and death - which is where I first read it, after picking up a copy from a second hand bookshop. Hurrah for second hand bookshops and the weird and wonderful things one can find in them. In her introduction to Keeping House, Slung name checks Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper as bedfellows of Blumlein’s short stinger; both are similarly wrought tales of women coming psychologically undone, featuring generous helpings of ambiguous, ever-suggestive supernaturalism in domestic environments.
Blumlein’s nameless protagonist seems cut from the same cloth as many of Shirley Jackson’s. She’s intelligent (a professor of classics), forthright and neurotic (no one does neurotic characters better than Shirley Jackson). Indeed, when introducing the house next door, Blumlein takes his cue directly from Jackson - like her Hill House, the house that adjoins his narrator’s becomes another character. ‘The house next door affects other houses’ and it ‘shares a circulation’ with the hers. Blumlein also notes that it is to the north of her house. As highlighted in Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate, the north has sinister connotations in certain cultures; The North is the dark place. It is not safe to be buried on the north side of the church and the North Door is the way of the Dead.
|... there were cracks through which cold drafts blew even on windless days.|
|Insomnia by Arman Zhenikeyev|
Upon entering her daughter’s nursery one night, she steps on a slug in the carpet and while flailing around for the light switch, glimpses a stalk-eyed ‘thing’ skulking in the shadows. For the next few weeks I dreamed about doing battle with limbless creatures whose flesh dripped when punctured. I was never vanquished, but neither was I ever victorious. The battles were nightmarishly everlasting.
Later, when her husband and daughter have left her, driven out by her extreme behaviour - which she maintains is what is protecting them from the presence next door - her isolation intensifies (she covers the windows in linoleum). When we arrive at the culmination, it is perfect in its logic and cruelty and almost provides a sense of relief. Almost. It might be a short story, but it’s brevity helps foster its impact.