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Post Road Magazine #35

The Doll’s Alphabetby Camilla Grudova

KL Pereira

Why do we still yearn for fairy tales? Not for endings of kisses and forever, I’d argue, but for the shadow and the wolf, the uncanny figures that are both home and horror, repellent and yet so obsessively compelling we can’t leave them alone.

In her debut collection The Doll's Alphabet, Camilla Grudova writes her obsession with the uncanny, pulling the reader into a series of characters and settings that not only evoke the spaces in which home and horror live together, but where they feast on one another. Drawing on both the fabulism of Helen Oyeyemi, Barbara Comyns, and Franz Kafka, and the modern dystopias of Margaret Atwood, Grudova leads us into a darkly inescapable forest of twins, manufactured bodies, masks, and abandoned landscapes, sharpened branches that prod at the roots of our dreams and nightmares. These stories aren’t simply unsettling, they are the embodiment of that which unsettles.

Her opening story, “Unstitching,” a piece of flash fiction worthy of Kafka himself, begins: “One afternoon, after finishing a cup of coffee in her living room, Greta discovered how to unstitch herself.” The echoes of The Metamorphosisare immediately clear, and yet Grudova creates a narrative that is much more than a strange retelling. Rather than having her body thrust upon her a la Gregor Samsa, Greta finds agency in her transformation. Indeed, women in Grudova’s worlds are always shifting, initiating new bodies, and inhabiting the power to sweep away the self that no longer serves becomes a kind of constant. Yet these transformations, through pregnancy, childbirth, unstitching, are not simple reversals or reifications, but rather show the body as a space of constant liminality, where women embody and become both aesthetic symbols and wild creatures, their bodies resembling a feminized form while their shadows project predator selves that prey on the bodies and minds around them.

Grudova seems to beg the question: what becomes of us in worlds of dystopian rot? Stories like “The Mouse Queen,” “Waxy,” and “The Moth Emporium” show the ways in which the foundations of domesticity, symbolized by the “ideal” heteronormative relationship dancing its death rattle in crumbling apartments, grocery stores, and costume shops, fail us, rot away into grotesque pantomimes of fairy tales with stolen corpses and abandoned babies that instead of being returned or adopted and forgotten and devoured. 

The exploration of the uncanny, that which is familiar and yet not what we expect, goes one step further in these stories. The self that is mirrored here, that aggregate of body and machine and animal and devourer, does not create a cognitive dissonance that dissolves into horror, but rather a recognition, where the habitation of some kind of inherent wildness is accepted. After Greta transforms, we are told: “She was not afraid for she suddenly recognized herself.” As I devour these tales, my yellowed toenails curve down to click the tile floor, my smile grows into a snout long and full of teeth, and I know I am seen and see myself. These stories are woven into my conscious and unconscious body and will never abandon me. And I, in turn, will never stop being them.

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