Book Reviews

The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley (2014) Review

The discomfort of societal repression is made abundantly clear in this concise, unambiguous novella of body horror galore.

Official synopsis: “Somewhere away from the cities and towns, a group of men and boys gather around the fire each night to listen to their stories in the Valley of the Rocks. For when the women are all gone the rest of your life is all there is for everyone. The men are waiting to pass into the night.

The story shall be told to preserve the past. History has gone back to its aural roots and the power of words is strong. Meet Nate, the storyteller, and the new secrets he brings back from the darkness. William rules the group with youth and strength, but how long can that last? And what about Uncle Ted, who spends so much time out in the woods?

Hear the tales, watch a myth be formed. For what can man hope to achieve in a world without women? When the past is only grief how long should you hold on to it? What secrets can the forest offer to change it all?”

The Beauty contains some of the most unsettling imagery I never wanted to imagine. My initial response was one of repulsion. This story made me uncomfortable. It was in a new way though; it wasn’t from depictions of extreme sexual violence. It wasn’t from a murder of a child or animal. It was in a novel way, a way I’ve never explored before or have been exposed to. That may sound like a negative wrap, and to some it very well may be. However, the horror genre was beefed up by those contributors who went outside the guidelines and the traditions to create a monster of their own.

“I did not speak of death. I painted her in words of sweet sepia. She once held the hands of the little ones during lambing, cherishing the placentas, the blood of renewal. I spoke of that, and the others nodded as if they understood what she was.”

If the Beauties make you sick to your stomach, good. That was the author’s intention and she accomplished something many horror writers yearn to do. She wanted you to feel the disgust she and others feel in regards to the patriarchal shortcomings of our culture.

I feel that Whiteley was brave to trod into this odd territory. The intent was to expose and discuss the disturbing outlook on women in our current state of society in an equally revolting, unimaginable way. The imagery is brawny and the message is anything but subtle. It’s exceedingly easy to disregard this work. I believe your reception of The Beauty will rely heavily on the amount you’ll allow your mind to open. On one side of the spectrum, you can read it as a “man hater’s” ranting hidden behind twisted fantasies. On the other side, you have a story that heartily speaks of inequality and flawed perception juxtaposed against something just as unsettling.

The syntax was appropriate to the narrator, being as he was the appointed storyteller of the group. At times, the pacing felt lethargic, especially in the narrator’s actual stories (of which the reader just read). Choice of words felt carefully selected; it paid off. Descriptions of violence were succinct. The setting was not something described as vividly, but enough information was given to give the reader a general idea. The plot itself was straightforward and left little to the imagination. It could have been too transparent as well, for the concluding events did not stir much response. Fast paced, quick read.

Either way, the reader ultimately decides what they’ll take away from The Beauty. Keep in mind though the passion and frustration within it, and what has fueled that. If you choose to take away only the gnarliest bits, that’s okay too. I know I’ve never read about superhuman fungi monsters. Keep an eye out for other work by Whiteley.


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