If you live with a cat, you live with a natural born killer. Some prey on dangling bits of string, others go after bigger game. And if they like you, they’ll leave you one of their kills as a little gift. In Stephen Volk’s newest novella, it’s one of these little gifts from a family cat that sends the man of the house, our narrator, down a dark winding memory of an encounter with an alluring woman that shook him from his mundane moorings.
Our man’s life at first glance would appear to be right on track. He has a good job, a loving wife, two adorable little children, the house, the car, and even a little cottage for vacations. The whole shebang. And yet when he meets a woman at a company getaway whom he describes as “not outstandingly attractive,” he is enamored with her almost immediately. They talk, they flirt, and things gradually escalate from there until he’s not only contemplating a tryst, but a full-on affair.
Now, it may seem odd that a scene of feline carnage on the kitchen floor would serve as a catalyst for a tale of suburban infidelity, but Volk puts a long tale on this kite. There’s an almost devious way in which Volk pulls the rug out from under both his protagonist and his readers with this one. Before I was halfway done reading The Little Gift I was starting to wonder if I was actually reading the British equivalent to the American literary pastime of writing about upper-middle class divorce in the Hamptons. But it was the sinister undercurrent to the story that kept me going forward, and I’m glad I did because a disquieting realization comes to our narrator about himself and his affair in its aftermath.
In the menagerie of quiet horror that has been written, The Little Gift is a church mouse. This kind of horror isn’t a jump scare or even mounting dread. It is a cold, hard look in the mirror for an ordinary man met with extraordinary circumstances. While I’d be inclined to recommend Volk’s Whitsable for newcomers to his work, The Little Gift is certainly worthwhile in seeing an author deftly weave an engaging story about what is at first glance merely a bored family man.