In the final pages of Here in the Night, Rebecca Turkewitz’s debut collection, out now from Black Lawrence Press, a character remarks: “The world is a weird place.” It’s a comment that seems to speak to every story in this haunting collection. Over thirteen stories (a number picked not accidentally, I’m sure), Turkewitz explores the weird, the unusual, the unsettling: creatures, specters, things that go bump in the night. Breakups and bullies and the deep dark fears of both children and adults. There’s the ghost of Emily Leavitt who haunts Blackstone, New Hampshire in the collection’s opening story, “At This Late Hour,” (first published right here in The Masters Review); the ghost of Grace in “The Elevator Girl” who, despite still living, may haunt the elevator of the art building at Ohio State; and in “The Attic,” the ghost of Hazel, who, despite being invented by two young girls in an attempt to talk about anything but their impending separation, seems as real as any other ghost here. There are disappearances, local legends. A haunted bridge, the beast-man, the Webbed-Arm Man. There are drownings, nightmares, and betrayals. But even so, these are not horror stories as much as they are carefully constructed explorations of character cast against a series of hauntings.
Central to almost every story in Here in the Night is a sense of longing. The characters who populate the spaces Turkewitz explores in her collection, most frequently New England and the Midwest (and several times, both), are either skeptics or believers (“You don’t believe in ghosts because you’re rational,” one second-person narrator reassures herself in “The Nightmares of Jennifer Aiken, Age 29,” “but a rational person considers new evidence,”) but all are overwhelmed by a desire for human connection, companionship. Desire—particularly queer desire—is embedded in the core of this collection. Turkewitz joins a long line of writers invoking the horror genre to explore identity and sexuality, and although Turkewitz’s monsters are never quite as explicit or visible as Carmen Maria Machado’s (creatures are only seen or felt in the periphery, viewed at an angle in the dark, through the mist), their presence is just as large. The ghosts and hauntings that make up Here in the Night are invoked to explain the unexplainable and, sometimes, are easier to accept at face value for the characters than the truth, their reality. In “At This Late Hour,” the narrator has escaped to Blackstone to outrun her past. There, she finds unexpected comfort in the older owner of the Leavitt Hotel where she works, and on the night when they finally go to bed together, she thinks: “If I wanted this, I could have it and probably have it for good.” In “Northwood,” young Lilly yearns for her father’s return and her refusal to believe that he simply walked out on his family leads her running to confront the beast-man, the legendary creature supposedly responsible for the town’s disappearances.
And though most stories in the collection invoke some kind of otherworldly specter, I found the collection’s titular story, entirely—tragically—realist, the most chilling. “Here in the Night” is set the morning after the Pulse nightclub massacre, as Jess and Ellie, a lesbian couple, have car troubles in South Carolina. Harassed by a passing motorist sporting a confederate flag decal and shouting homophobic slurs, the two are shaken momentarily, only to be frozen in fear a beat later when the truck turns around and heads back toward them. It’s here that Turkewitz brilliantly exploits all the dread that has been building subtly in the background throughout the rest of the collection. I had to remind myself to breathe.
Maps and mapmaking are frequent visitors to these stories, as well. Characters are amateur cartographers, like William in the opening story, or map librarians like the narrator in “The Last Unmapped Places,” or else they’re more akin to explorers: learning the stories, the legends, of their new towns in order find home. “To know a place, you have to know its ghosts,” the narrator of “At This Late Hour” insists. And later, in “Northwood,” our narrator asks, “What is a town ghost story, if not some patchwork version of our own unique fears—a communal nightmare that ensures our children will be afraid of the same things we are?” These are stories indebted to the communities, as much a part of their landscape as any bridge, any cliff, passed down from generation to generation. To know a place, you have to know its ghosts; to know a person, you have to know their fears.
“Love and horror are so easily conflated; the boundary between passion and terror is not always clear.” This wisdom, from our now-adult narrator in “Northwood,” could quite easily be the thesis for this whole collection, and it is these moments of clarity throughout that make Here in the Night so easy to recommend whole-heartedly for any reader of literary fiction. This is a debut that will surely make people take notice.
Publisher: Black Lawrence Press
Publication date: July 21, 2023
Reviewed by Cole Meyer