So I’ve been reading and reading all summer long, but not finding things that really satisfy. It’s the downside of being voracious and pretty indiscriminate about your reading: you get jaded pretty quickly–been there, seen that, seen it done BETTER, and now you’re bored. Every now and then, I just hit a run of meh books.
And every now and then, I stumble over something strange and wonderful.
In this case, the online novel All But a Bloody Mouth by Becca De La Rosa
All But a Bloody Mouth published on tumblr in 2016 and later assembled into a free download—technically self-pubbed, but not available for sale in stores. If you find it, it feels … serendipitous.
Written by: Becca De La Rosa
Genre: um…. I’m thinking of it as feminist noir horror? Which is a genre I didn’t know I wanted, but apparently was starving for.
Pages: 259 per pdf
Publisher: self-published, nicely formatted, not available in stores.
Why I chose it: During my podcast resolution over on Spec Chic, I listened to podcast Mabel (not reviewed yet–look for my review in Oct or Nov), and wandered over to the website and found the writer for Mabel had also written this novel. Since I was enjoying Mabel so much, and the premise of this book appealed to me, it seemed only natural to dive right in.
All But the Bloody Mouth. First published on Tumblr in 2016; a novel about murder, mystery cults, and apotheosis.
Eleven days ago Loan Santos came home to discover her boyfriend Jack violently attacking a young woman on the kitchen floor. Following the revelation, Jack admitted to committing the five murders attributed to the Red Deer Valley Slasher; he claimed he killed those five girls, however, for a very particular reason. Now, Loan must piece together the facts of the matter (a girl with a scar on her throat who knows more than she lets on, a monster in the wetlands) to find herself some kind of – meaning, or understanding, or transcendence.
All But the Bloody Mouth is free to download, read, and share.
Spoilers ahead, but I’m going to try to keep them small, because watching this book unfold is a delight.
I read a lot of serial killer stories. It’s almost inevitable. I love fantasy, but as a child, I cut my teeth on mystery. Nancy Drew, Kay Tracey, Meg, Trixie freaking Belden. And oh, here’s a fantasy twist: The Girl with the Silver Eyes, which was a childhood form of an urban fantasy—young girl with a magical gift learns that there are others like her and enemies out there who want to control them, and she assembles a team to fight back…. Tell me that doesn’t sound urban fantasy-ish.
The point being, after a while, mystery divides itself into cozies and murders. (Not that no one dies in cozies, it’s just that no one seems to care much.) So yeah, serial killers. And I enjoy the genre but it is definitely a genre of dead tortured women, usually with graphic scenes, where the saving grace is that many, many of the serial killer stories are written by women, with women as their active protagonists.
That said, there is a certain sameness to the formula. So, I really enjoy the books that turn the story on its end—the killer caught on the first page!? The story about the recovery of the people affected—yeah, show me that!
And All But a Bloody Mouth begins with Jack, the Red Deer Valley killer caught and jailed before the first page. Because he’s not the focus here. It’s about the two women he left behind—the woman who nearly died, and the woman who loved him, unknowing. But it’s also about pulling back the veil on the lives that women lead.
I said feminist noir and I meant it. Mandy Jane Donovan, the would-be victim is the blonde femme fatale, swanning through the story and helping to open Loan’s eyes to the world she’s always moved through, but always repressed. That Loan surpasses Mandy’s understanding in the end is also noir—Mandy is ephemeral, her importance is to lead Loan in the direction of the truth. Mandy is a vector of sorts, a proselytizer. But unlike classic noir, Mandy has her own successful agenda. She doesn’t come to ruin. She starts there and grows past it.
These truths are about men and women, more than anything else. And they’re not necessarily pleasant truths. Here, each gender is pretty much posed always in opposition to each other.
I also said horror, and I meant it. The horror here is both occasionally gory—though elegantly presented—and social; there’s a scene with Loan and her lawyer that’s just fundamentally upsetting in oh so many ways. Loan starts off quiet and repressed, but it’s definitely the quiet of a banked fire.
There’s real fantasy here also. But it’s a fantasy that is more about mythology than casting spells or having magical abilities doled out. It’s about change. I thought the ending was both surprising and well-led up to, if a little short on the mechanics.
There were small things that bugged me:
I wasn’t sure about Loan’s name. It’s unusual enough to strike the reader as continually odd. It felt more like a symbol than a name. Loan? Like lone? Or Loan, like her life had been on loan…. I don’t know. But it was distracting.*
I adored the ending, but thought it felt a little bit abrupt. A lot of the big moments in this book are a little rushed.
De La Rosa’s writing is full of literary goodness, but occasionally one of her metaphors falls a little flat.
I’d actually recommend All But the Bloody Mouth to anyone who enjoys Gemma Files—the introspection, the dissection of relationships, the precision in language, and yes, the mythic horror. Elizabeth Hand as well. Try the first few pages; if you like those, you’ll probably enjoy the rest. If you don’t get a tiny little shiver at the end of the first scene, you might not.
*ETA and today, Kelly Marie Tran explains that her given name is Loan, and suddenly I have more context for the name. So, less odd, then. I have learned something!