Stephen Monaghan is a brilliant chemist and gifted sculptor. Unable to love a human woman, he uses his genius and arcane science to create a living woman out of wood. Just one can’t fill his bottomless need, so he creates more and more of these dolls. With each act of creation, he loses something of himself: his signature, his knowledge, his shadow, his voice and finally his blood. His sacrifices produce dolls that do not just move but live and learn, exploring humanity through the humans that inspired their creation. The dolls do not become human, but evolve into creatures with free will and self-expression. By the end, he is more doll than man, and they are more human than human.
A Haunting Origin Story
I think Justin Robinson would probably point new readers to other titles he's written, but this is the first one I read and I found it utterly beguiling. It has hints of what I love best about Ray Bradbury, and is reminiscent of the Martian Chronicles in that like Bradbury's Martians, the Dolls of this story have motives, thoughts, and feelings that aren't completely transparent to us contributing to the gnawing feeling of unease and suspense.
I'm not qualified to judge it as a work of horror as I rarely read anything even remotely close to horror. But it is full of mystery, suspense, terror, and beauty. Most horror stories I've read treat the readers as outsiders to the supernatural elements and derive any suspense from our ignorance. This story instead starts us right at the beginning, insiders to everything, and yes, there are terrible things going on, but there is also much to think about regarding humanity, artistic obsession, beauty, and our responsibility to what we create in this world.
Beautiful story, I could hardly put it down, always wondering what the consequences of the next steps taken would be.