Friday, February 3, 2017

Women in Horror: Our Lady of the Inferno

In Spring 1983, New York is home to two powerful women who have no idea they are destined to clash. The first is Ginny Kurva, an accomplished woman who is a prostitute to most, a teacher to the other girls she leads, a useful tool to her pimp, and a mother to her disabled sister Tricia. She's confident but cold to all but her sister. Nicolette Aster seems quiet, valuable, and trustworthy worker at the landfill, but her true self is so much more depraved. Her nights are filled with bloodlust, a twisted hunting ground, and macabre meals. As the year goes on and turns to summer, their paths will cross in an explosive way.

Our Lady of the Inferno is a character driven novel featuring two very different women. The first is Ginny Kurva, who exudes confidence but keeps herself removed from everyone except her sister Tricia. Although being a prostitute is far from what she wanted from her life, she channels her dream of teaching to her charges, the other prostitutes she leads and cares for. Together, they conduct scientific experiments, read classic novels, and converse in German before and after working the streets. Ginny has an armor of nonchalance as if everything just rolls off her no matter how bad the situation is. She isn't perfect and definitely does some horrible things, but her intentions are always to try to make the best of every situation. Her moments of escape take place in a seedy movie theater with Roger, the only person who sees her for herself. I love that Ginny is steeped in the 80's from her fashion to her speech to her love of The Wrath of Khan and Flashdance because she seeks solace in culture. When her facade breaks and reality crashes through, it's completely heartbreaking. I loved following this amazing but flawed woman throughout the novel.

The other main character is Nicolette Aster, hardworking on the outside and completely unhinged on the inside. Through her perspective, the outside world doesn't matter at all and it could have taken place at any time because of her extreme detachment. Other people don't matter to her and she refers to them as "Someone" in her head instead of bothering to learn their names. She often retreates to her Meadow, a place in her mind where she can relax and be herself. In the real world, she is constantly having to make sure that she appears normal and checking off the expected behaviors that do not come naturally to her. The glimpses into her thought processes felt alien and uncomfortable. She believes that she is some sort of mythological creature that receives tribute and other messages directly from the city which culminates in hunting, sacrificing, and eating people to fuel her own power. The difference between her appearance and her inner self is jarring and impressive. This perpetrator was assumed to be a man because it's much more common, but this novel shows that women have the capacity to be monsters and heroes even though it's not typically portrayed.

Both women are flawed, compelling characters that have relatable characteristics and offputting ones. The story drew me in and had me thinking about it throughout my work day. My only criticism is the time spent with each of these characters. I understand that we are meant to sympathize more with Ginny and should spend more time with her, but I found Nicolette's mind fascinating and wanted to see more from her perspective. The moments of horror took a while to get to and were spaced out a little too much for me. Other than that, Our Lady of the Inferno was a book that I struggled to put down because of its well drawn characters and its unique, disturbing brand of horror.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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