Here's my quick blurb: A beautifully written, chilling haunted house story that is both about the ghosts we create, give life to, and cling to, and the supernatural ones that may find us and use our internal ghosts against us if we are so unlucky.
“I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster, she thought, and the monster feels my tiny movements inside.”
This line comes from Shirley Jackson’s beautiful, haunting, classic masterpiece The Haunting of Hill House and it’s an epigraph to Paper Tigers—one that couldn't be more apt.
I’d also like to point out that it’s not a line I’ve seen used before from Jackson, not even one I really remembered. But it’s creepy, deliciously so, and completely puts you in Eleanor’s frame of mind if you’ve read the book. Usually, if you see Hill House epigraphs, you see some bit of the opener about how some places are born evil and all that. A brilliant opening to be sure—I read it over and over not knowing quite what it is—but definitely over-used as an epigraph for haunted house novels. As soon as I read that Jackson quote, I knew the book I was holding in my hands was something special.
Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters is out February 29, 2016 from Dark House Press, a really special independent speculative fiction press. If you try this and like it, go look at their other stuff. You won’t be disappointed. I’ll link to their website below so you can check it out! Editor-in-Chief Richard Thomas is a great writer in his own right, but also has an eye for writers on the fringes, people with interesting ideas and beautiful literary skill whose stuff might not quite fit into the main stream. I’m also just so in love with all their cover and interior art, which I’m told is all done by the same guy, Alban Fischer. What an amazing designer. You simply don’t see speculative fiction covers, especially horror, that look so classy and truly beautiful.
But you’re here for the book, right? Tell me about the book already, you say!
This is the story of Alison, a girl who is disfigured by an accident and left alone with only occasional visits from her overbearing mother and the old photo albums she collects for any comfort. She can’t bear to go out into the world because of the way she thinks people will stare and whisper, so she stays locked inside with her thoughts and hurts and visions of herself as a Monstergirl.
But what happens when one of the old albums Alison finds is inhabited by someone or something? She’s haunted by the album, visited by its real owner and finds herself getting sucked further and further into the paper world. But not all is quite right; Alison is frightened by the power of the album as much as she is enticed by its possibilities.
I felt that this book was an exploration of the split between the internal and the external self. How are those selves actually different? Who is the real me? Does how the world sees me matter? If it does, then does my external self create and mold my internal self to some extent? Alison’s whole life revolves around her disfiguration—she isn’t able to be who she was anymore. In fact, she isn’t allowed to lead any sort of normal existence. But in truth, the only person who is stopping her from this is herself.
Her fear of what other people will think of her external self matters so much to her that it freezes her, keeping her stuck in time, just like all the people in the photo albums that she so desperately clings to. She knows nothing about these people except what the photos show, but I think that they look normal is enough for her. She can imagine their very normal lives, invent things for them, or at least imagine that they weren’t gawked at when they went about.
She knows her life won’t be like that anymore.
That’s why it’s so easy to get sucked into this new album, this awfully, suspiciously dark and evil album that any friend would have told her was bad news bears.
If she’d let anyone come close enough to be her friend anymore.
This book is about transformation and coming to terms with who you are—whoever you are—and accepting that. Not to say that this is any easy task. But in this day and age, I think we have to work towards giving ourselves at least that much.
Being swallowed by the haunted photo album wasn’t Alison’s first problem. Her real issue is letting herself be swallowed by the idea of the Monstergirl and shutting out the world and the people who care about her.
Her only way out may be to accept herself as who she is now, scars and all, even if that means embracing the monster inside.
Do yourself the favor of checking out this amazing author, and this amazing press as well. You won't regret it!
Get your copy of PAPER TIGERS
Find out more about Damien Angelica Walters:
Find out more about the publisher, Dark House Press
Editor-in-chief Richard Thomas' Twitter
Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.