In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.
They Call Me Monster by Tiffany Scandal
Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice by Damien Angelica Walters
It takes guts to commission two stories with virtually identical thematic hooks in the same anthology. It takes even more sizeable viscera to place those stories exactly side-by-side in the table of contents. But Lockhart isn’t afraid to take this risky but logical leap, and with Scandal and Walter’s stories creates a logical double-bill: a teenage interlude for the Eternal Frankenstein experience, if you will.
Yes, both stories take the teenage high school experience as their springboard into — and out of — the core of Shelley’s text. While they are similar on one level — both concern themselves with a Frankenstein’s Creature teenager put together by overprotective and/or scientifically overzealous parents, who are offstage for most of the narrative — their differences are also crucial.
Scandal takes a more straightforward route (her story is also the shorter one), and has the Creature-stand in protagonist, Imelda, narrate her own experience of being bullied across various high schools as her parents move her from one town to another once the bullying gets too much to handle.
“We can’t punish the whole school,” becomes a refrain, and it serves as an equivalent to the the pitchfork-happy mobs that have become synonymous with Frankenstein stories ever since Hollywood got its mitts on Shelley’s text. While Walters builds a sense of dread through a carefully chosen framing device, Scandal pulls the rug from under our feet right at the end, mingling the satisfying arc of the coming-of-age story with something far more sinister.
In fact, Walters embraces our expectation for ‘Frankenstein stories’ from the word go: she knows that we are calibrated to expect a certain kind of arc from any take on Shelley’s text. She even throws in an extra reference for good measure: the narrator of the story — we soon catch on that we’re hearing one side of an interrogation — mentions the cult favourite film adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie as a trigger for the grisly episode she would set in motion with her friends.
And there’s a nasty thrill to be had with how Walters dangles the carrot (or rather, bucket of pig blood) of what’s about to be recounted. Unlike Carrie, however — in which there is never any doubt about the ferocity of the bullies — this is a story of casual bullying that builds into something more malignant as it progresses. But on the other hand — and because we’re given everything from the self-justifying perspective — it’s also a reminder of how easy it is to victim-blame and scapegoat those who appear to be innately different from us.
Remember the pitchforks. They haven’t gone away.