The Mothers of Voorhisville, by Mary Rickert, is not a stereotypical horror story, but this tale of motherhood, small town life, and women’s place in society will deliver plenty of creeping dread. The story starts at the end. We know that the mothers have done something terrible, but not what. We know that the mothers’ babies can fly, and that they all shared a mysterious lover. We know that murder has occurred, but not whose, nor by whose hands. Most of all, we know from the very beginning that this story is the mothers’ way of explaining themselves. Whatever terrible thing they have done, the world knows about it, and the mothers want to be sure that people know the truth of what happened in the small town of Voorhisville.
The story is told from many points of view. Sometimes it’s all the mothers at once, sometimes a single mother writing of her own experience, but the bulk of the story is written by one mother, an unpublished novelist who synthesizes several of their stories into one narrative. We see the town of Voorhisville through many eyes.
The mothers are as varied as it is possible for a group of women to be. They are teenagers and middle-aged mothers of teenagers, widows and failed models. They come from rich families and from financial struggles. Some take to motherhood naturally, finding a joy and love in it that they’d never expected. Others struggle to balance the needs of helpless new life against their own, coming up frantic and depleted. Some relationships – familial and fraternal – are strained, while others thrive. They are united by a shared lover and by the secret they all keep about their children.
The storytelling is lyrical. Even in moments of anger and pain, there is a beauty, a focus on tiny, perfect details that left me reaching for the deeper meanings within the story. All of these women exist within the continuum between satisfaction and despair, between self-determination and limitations both external and self-imposed. This isn’t a rosy picture of life, but it isn’t hopeless, either.
The horror is quiet. Understated. The mothers of Voorhisville are realists, taking things as they come, but there are some things that they can’t quite bring themselves to state outright. Still, the writing is deft enough that the reader still understands what happened. The most explicit descriptions are reserved for childbirth itself. These are intense, and I will not dwell upon them here.
Slowly, the story revealed its dark ending, and it both was and was not exactly what I expected. Every mother says they would die for their child. But what would a whole town full of mothers do to protect children they fear are monstrous? And even more so, when those fears are confirmed? In the end, all of these women, with their different lives and loves and petty hatreds, their widely varying yet strangely similar journeys of motherhood, unite in a common cause.
The Mothers of Voorhisville doesn’t have a tidy ending. The words stop before the story is entirely over, though we can infer the rest. There are facts that the mothers simply do not know, and so they can not tell them to us, forcing the reader to draw their own conclusions. And for a story that relies heavily on metaphor, the meaning behind it all stays tantalizingly out of reach. Still, as long as you don’t need a lot of closure, this is a beautiful, deeply unsettling story. It is available for free online, or you can purchase a copy for your e-reader.