An important work of post-modern feminist horror, American Monsters is a poignant, angry volume about predation, the corruption of the rave scene, and empowerment through trauma-related super-abilities.
The first section of American Monsters is The Succubi Sideshow. This is a series of darkly compelling vignettes introducing a wide range of characters. You’ll find no happy, well-balanced individuals in this disturbing gallery. These are the origins of the monstrous denizens of the book. There are good monsters, yes, but there are some very bad ones too.
In the second section, The Phantastic Carnival, the Monsters are brought together through the murderous designs of an ancient, soul-hungry goddess. What could be a better lure for a big haul of youthful life-force than a spectacular Halloween party in a peculiar hill-top mansion? This section is presented as a film script and, like the previous piece, is illustrated with gorgeous watercolour paintings from artist Rose Deniz.
Non-Fiction, the third and final section of American Monsters, is a collection of moving and insightful essays. This includes a series of authoritative feminist analyses of horror, ethnography and rave culture. The heart of this section however is The Night The Sky Opened Up, a heart-rending account of the night when the author’s best friend was executed in front of her by a crazed gang-member.
Packed with horror homages both oblique and obvious, American Monsters is a book for adventurous readers – ones who are not scared of non-traditional narratives, of evil smog-goddesses, or of women turning the tables.
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A must-read for feminist horror lovers
American Monsters by Sezín Koehler, with Illustrations by Rose Deniz, is an exciting and emotionally resonant novel that moves from short stories to a screenplay, to memoir and essays, all tied together with the horrors of trauma and how it manifests creatively and in real life.
In the opening short story, the narrator is at a house party and taking hallucinogens. Her poetic use of language evokes the feeling of being on an acid trip, including an underlying anxiety. At the party, she meets a dude who reveals himself to be a total sleazy creep. You know the guy. The one who won’t leave her alone. The one who has to ask for a hug. The kind of guy who gets angry when she doesn’t want to give him said hug. Koehler captures this type in such a real way that this should be required reading for every freshman male. Things get darker from there, revealing some realistic, from the depths of the writer’s soul-level storytelling about rape.
Here are some highlights of this rich, wonderful book: The art is gorgeous. The pieces add to the fable-like feeling I get when reading their corresponding stories. The art and story for the chapter called Glamour is my particular favorite. The narrator takes us into a frat house scene of righteous and horrific violence that left me shaken.
The second part is a dark comedy screenplay that features a smog goddess and three characters dressed up as Powerpuff Girls who go to a Hollywood party. The scenes are funny, mocking, then right when you think you’re okay, descends into horror.
The final part of the book includes the true story account of when the author’s friend was murdered in front of her. The murder itself is more horrible than anything in fiction and somehow the aftermath manages to be even more terrifying. The ensuing chapters reveal a compelling and unfortunately real account of the aftermaths of experiencing a traumatic crime. I think this is an important book. It’s a personal true crime memoir preceded by narratives that feel like they weave fact with fiction, horror, and humor.