Perhaps that's why I so enjoyed Charlotte Stein's latest novella, Intrusion. Stein's romance fiction often dances on the edge of the creepy, but Intrusion engages more directly with horror and its tropes than any other of her works I've read. Not to endorse horror's misogynistic agenda, but instead to challenge it.
|Clarice Starling: defeating horror, gun in hand|
But our narrator doesn't have to knock; the strange man opens the door, just a sliver, at her approach. She makes her accusation, and he doesn't reply; he simply closes the door without saying a word. Only after she marches back across the street does she understand the significance of the chain the man kept across his door: "People put chains on their doors when they are afraid of you. Not when they want you to be afraid of them" (Loc 89). Rather than a terror like those that haunt her nightmares, might her reclusive neighbor be just as afraid as she is? Could what drove her across the street be less fear for her dog (who of course is waiting for her when she returns home), and more curiosity about a person who is in many ways acting the way she worries she might, if she ever gives in to her fears?
Sleepwalking, apologies, and thank-yous bring our narrator (whose name we find out is Beth) back in contact with her mysterious neighbor, who turns out to be just as strange, and just as wary, as Beth is herself. For Noah Gideon Grant, a former criminologist and forensic psychologist, has experienced trauma worthy of the most chilling horror flick. Unlike the audience of a horror film, though, Noah has no ability to distance himself from the terror, is able to gain no catharsis by telling himself "oh, this isn't real." Because Noah has in truth been traumatized by what horror films typically offer up as over-the-top, fake, performed entertainment: witnessing the sexual violation and murder of women.
Despite their growing friendship, and their obvious physical attraction, Noah and Beth's previous history with violent men makes any kind of romantic relationship difficult to navigate. Only when they begin to unlock each other's psychological truths, to understand what boundaries are important, what boundaries can be pushed, can they recoup the pleasure in being kind to another, in experiencing sexual desire.
|Who would you rather be? Halloween's Laurie|
Strode? Or Silence of the Lambs' Clarice?
Avon Impulse, 2014