I saw a brief mention of the short story collection Homebodies by Amy LeBlanc somewhere online, and I decided I just HAD to read it for my spooky October reading series. It’s harder to find Halloween-themed books by small or independent presses, so I’m quite pleased and excited to introduce this Calgary-based author to a wider audience. It’s a short collection, but very unnerving, and although there aren’t any Halloween-specific stories, you can definitely classify this is as spooky reading.
Homebodies is made up of 16 short stories, some linked, some stand-alone. They are divided into three sections: The Fox (in the house), The Fever Dream (in the house), and The Body (in the house). Each section loosely follows a theme: animals, a virus, and the human body. Most of the stories are told in a first person perspective with the linked stories jumping from one character to another between them. As far as I could tell, no two stories were told from the same character’s perspective, although The Fever Dream section all clearly mentions the same people and their relation to this new virus that produces strange bruising on people’s bodies. Some stories are very short, encompassing short paragraphs that read like a longer poem only lasting a few pages, while some stories detail one person’s life, including previous memories they had and their present day challenges. “Bruised Plums” describes a woman living in the house her deceased grandmother left to her, which is clearly haunted. “Cherry Pit” is about another young woman who is a mortician. It details moments of her childhood as an explanation of why she chose this unique career path. “The Fridge Light” doesn’t incorporate supernatural elements, it’s about a young woman with an eating disorder and her struggle to relate to her mother on one of her unannounced visits. The best word to describe each story in this collection is: unnerving.
I want to get my niggling complaint about this collection out of the way; it was uneven. The shorter stories weren’t as effective, and could have easily been cut. For such a short page count, 16 separate stories felt like too much, and unnecessary. The longer stories are where this author truly shined, and I found myself becoming absorbed into the little world she had created for them. Strangely enough, the set of ‘virus’ tales were my favourite. It’s a time / retelling that is meant to parallel Covid, but different in a few distinct ways, the most important being the physical manifestation of the illness on a person’s body. She describes someone going to the grocery store and realizing many of the shelves were empty, something she had never seen before, and those of us in North America will likely relate to this scene. While in line she meets a creepy man who tells her (twice) that he’s a lepidopterist who works with butterflies, and the next story is told from that man’s perspective as he pins butterfly bodies to a board. It’s hard to say why, but the fact this man repeated what his job was in the span of a few seconds (which the woman then reminds him he already told her) is one of the most unnerving parts of this whole story. Why does he do that? We never find out why, but this brilliant detail moves the story into even more uncomfortable territory.
There is no shortage of small children discovering dead animal bodies in this book, perhaps this is where the title of the collection come from, because in most cases they bring them home. There is a blending of eerie things that we readily accept in this world (being a mortician for example) with things that may consider crossing the line into ‘too creepy’, and this is where LeBlanc takes the reader, balancing us between the two, testing as to how far we are willing to let our imaginations go. And nothing outwardly horrific happens in this book; we never witness zombies stumbling around, instead, there are seemingly normal occurrences of a person sitting at a table and eating that we know can’t be real because of prior knowledge of their death.
Aside from my minor complaint above, I really enjoyed this collection. It was the perfect book to get me into the spooky mood, and I recommend it for those who don’t enjoy horror, but a chilling atmosphere to keep them on edge.