In the second of the 23 short stories of Rachel Kendall’s debut collection, a group of horror enthusiasts who have met on the internet gather to watch a body decay. Not satiated, the story’s protagonist is taken to a dog fight, and, still unmoved, to watch two men fight to the death, before he is made to observe a video of his own torture.
The recommendations on the collection’s cover render the book “Disturbing!” and The Bride Stripped Bare is heavy going, with visceral, graphic depictions of violence, torture and extreme erotic fantasy. The collection’s cast are the disaffected, the alienated and the curious, who populate brothels cum laboratories, empty parking lots and sordid houses stained with bodily fluids.
But dwelling for too long on the graphic nature of The Bride Stripped Bare does Kendall a disservice; this is a sophisticatedly rendered, confident debut. She writes with a cold lyricism and each of the stories, whether one page or five, is well-paced and tightly controlled. Her work, with a nod to Georges Bataille, ties the literary, the bodily and the vulgar. The Suicide Room depicts a potentially fatal search for personal enlightenment and has a skilfully implied horror. Eat Me, Eat Me is an Angela Carter style reworking of Red Riding Hood, with the girl ultimately copulating with the wolf. And the most memorable, IIIVVWVVIIIVV, is a single page, notable among Kendall’s otherwise terse prose for its stream of consciousness style, the meaning of its narrative chillingly oblique.