Reconstructing A Relationship is perhaps one of the most surprising stories I’ve yet reviewed on themindflayer.com—at once a grisly modern re-telling of Frankenstein and an exploration of abusive relationships. Though short—of novelette length at around 58 pages—author Micah Castle manages to take the reader on an incredible journey.
I will say that reviewing this novelette almost feels like a disservice, because readers will be rewarded by going into the story knowing as little as possible. I didn’t read the blurb or look at any reviews—my only clue was the front cover—and I found myself transported. If what I’ve said so far is enough to whet your appetite, then go right ahead and dive in without any further context. You can thank me later.
But for those who need a little more, which is perfectly understandable, strap in for a wild ride.
Firstly, I’ll comment on the writing style. Micah Castle writes real sentences. That might sound pretentious, but it’s possibly the most truthful way I can say it. Some of the images in this story will send shivers down your spine. Yet, he doesn’t sacrifice character for the sake of lyricism; the narrative voice remains distinct and relevant to the character we are following.
Structurally, Reconstructing A Relationship resembles a two-act play, two complimentary dramatic movements divided by a midway perspective shift. Part 1 of the story focuses on Terry, a southern American woman who has lost the love of her life in a car accident. Terry is on a mission to reconstruct her relationship: literally. At first, we’re not entirely sure what Terry is up to—we know it’s suspect from the brooding atmosphere of the prose, from the paranoid way she behaves, but we can’t quite put the pieces together (if you’ll pardon the pun). Very shortly, however, it becomes clear she’s building a new body for her lover, Drew, and she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to find the parts she needs. Victor Frankenstein famously plundered graveyards for the materials needed to create his monster. But Terry has no qualms about finding fresher samples...
Terry’s immoral pursuit of the means to resurrect her dead lover creates a brilliant conflict in that we simultaneously feel sorry for Terry and how deeply her loss has affected her but are also appalled by her actions; we admire her ferocious determination but we also know she has completely lost her mind. Micah Castle’s prose uses free-indirect discourse to put us right inside Terry’s head, and we can’t help but feel sympathy for her, despite the fact she’s insane. We chalk up her mania to desperation and grief.
But then comes the midway perspective shift.
I can’t say too much about this, for fear of ruining the story for you, but suffice to say our perception of what is really going on changes dramatically—our assumptions fall out from under us and we are left with some truths even more grisly than the body parts and organs that have littered the pages of part 1. Whilst body horror pervades the entire story, part 2 takes us deep into psychological horror as well, exploring intense themes including abusive relationships. Refreshingly, however, Castle’s storytelling never feels like it is gratuitous for the sake of it or that he is trying to shock the reader—the situation is simply shocking in and of itself. What’s even more impressive is that he manages to retain characterisation. Too many horror novels, at the nadir point, turn their characters into two-dimensional cartoon villains who get off on sadism—abandoning all personality in favour of a purely “evil” archetype. Castle’s villains, however, are governed by genuine motivations, and though we hate them we still feel sorry for how wretched they’ve become.
In part 1, we turn pages because we are so invested in Terry’s mission and whether or not she will succeed; the narrative propulsion is astounding. I imagined that with a perspective shift it would be difficult to sustain such giddy narrative momentum, and yet the author not only achieves this, but the momentum actually increases, as does the overwhelming horror. I could not stop turning pages until I had devoured the rest of the book in one sitting.
What perhaps pleased me most about this story was its ending. There has been a recent fetish for horror novels that end so bleakly that the entire preceding narrative feels utterly pointless—again for the sake of shock value. Micah Castle understands, however, that having passed through such darkness we must emerge into light. The final moments of the narrative are hair-raisingly uplifting, a cathartic emergence from suffering and trauma into the possibility of freedom. This ending shows the novelette to be unashamedly allegorical—which is why I found it to be not just emotive but also healing.
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