Women in Horror Month: Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales

Title: Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales
Author: Fran Friel
Publisher: Apex Publications

We are wrapping up Women in Horror Recognition month with a book that exemplifies what women bring to the genre. Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales by Fran Friel is a collection that in one light is very diverse, is also tied together by recurring themes and ideas you don’t see much in horror.

Many of the stories are really about the relationships in the family. Except for “Gravy Pursuits,” “Close Shave,” “Widow,” “Spider Love,” and “Black Sheep,” family is an important element in all the stories. Now, family relationships are not new to horror. But most of them have been written by men and from a more fatherly view point. Even Rosemary’s Baby, could be viewed more in a masculine lens than and feminine one. A lot of these are chilling because of the newness of the ideas. Mothers get a lot of raw ends in the collection, both deserved and undeserved. But while many writers would just let it happen, Friel gives an insight to the mother characters not normally explored in horror. You can see everything from their undying love for their children in “The Sea Orphan,” to the polar opposite in the novella “Mama’s Boy.” And these are relationship that can only be written by women. Even someone who is a dad can’t really get into it, and so a lot of them revert to stereotypes of maternal feelings and connections.

There is a dark humor to some of the tales. In both the food themed stories, “Mashed” and “Gravy Pursuits,” the set up boarders on the absurd, drawing you in with things you kind of just laugh off until you realize the character was right. Some of them end on more of a “gallows humor” note, but most just end in a shiver down the spine.

Friel also has many different settings, from Pacific islands to the suburbs of Philadelphia, but the is also another recurring idea in here too: Eastville , Virgina. Like many writers, Friel sets up a place for a number of her stories to take place in. By doing this, every story you read set in Eastville has an added atmospheric element from the previous story. A macabre sense of history that makes the shadows darker and the things in the corner of your eye a little more frightful.

Now, some of these stories were given the Horror Level of Fan, but they are not in the truest sense Fan stories. They are right on the line, mostly do to the careful realism that Friel gives to all her stories. Most people come to fiction to suspend their disbelief. They don’t want to be reminded of things that really happen. The novella, Mama’s Boy, is a very real story that tackles the ideas of incest, serial killers, and rape with an eye for truth. They are not glorified or exploitative in any way, but you also can’t suspend your disbelief. The story weaved could easily have come from an episode of Dateline or your local news. I think that even in horror literature, that realistic quality is still one that those who aren’t devoted to the genre care to tackle.

Horror Reader Level:

Beach of Dreams: Intermediate
Gravy Pursuits: Intermediate
Mashed: Intermediate
The Sea Orphan: Intermediate
Orange and Golden: Beginner
Under the Dryer: Intermediate
Close Shave: Fan
Connected at the Hip: Fan
Special Prayers: Fan
Widow: Beginner
Spider Love: Intermediate
Fine Print: Intermediate
Black Sheep: Beginner
Mama’s Boy: Fan

Average Horror Level: Intermediate

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