Review: Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy

cover of Mary: An Awakening in TerrorMary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy 
Tor Nightfire (July 2022) 
416 pages; $19.79 paperback; $12.99 ebook
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Nat Cassidy’s Mary: An Awakening of Terror opens with one of the most genuine author’s notes I’ve ever read. Cassidy details a close relationship with his mother, who, like many of us, was a Stephen King fan. Upon seeing the film poster of De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Carrie, starring Sissy Spacek, Cassidy was “messed up bad.”

Cassidy describes Spacek, drenched in red, eyes wide in fuming fury, with a hand outstretched, claw-like, and hungry for flesh.

When young Cassidy couldn’t escape Carrie, he turned to his mother for help, desperate to learn how to defeat the telekinetic teen haunting him.

But Carrie wasn’t like other King monsters, like Pennywise, the murderous clown who rips poor Georgie’s arm clean off, or the inauspicious, ravenous creatures of The Mist. Carrie was human, and a broken one at that. Abused by her evangelical mother and humiliated by her classmates, Carrie longed for just a glimpse of normalcy.

Cassidy says, “Carrie wasn’t so much the monster as she was surrounded by them.”

In this empathetic sentiment, woven by the King of horror himself, is the hammering, erratic pulse of Mary. After losing her job and learning of her aunt’s dire medical condition, an unremarkable middle-aged woman, Mary, returns to her hometown. However, the only welcome Mary receives are from mangled, decayed ghosts. Then there’s the reemerging memory of her childhood — which made for an extraordinary intro with a rather crawling scare.

Cassidy’s character-building is so incredibly complex that I can’t help but, yet again, make a comparison to Stephen King. However, Mary lives on the edge of likable, teetering toward the classic unlikable/unreliable narrator trope. Readers will root for Mary but also question the point of no return. Where is the line between trauma reaction and pure psychopathy? That grittiness, that tension makes this read so anguishing because the more the reader learns, the more monolithic the truth becomes.

Cassidy also conjures a perimenopausal dialogue, again paying homage to Carrie, that puts the irritating but infamous trope of “the hysteric woman.” One doctor even went as far as dismissing her complaints of dizziness, hot flashes, and hallucinations as an untenable experience for middle-aged women.

Even when others offer sympathy, it feels half-hearted, mansplained.

Women’s health, at best, has always been a compromise. Take this medicine to stop bleeding, but the tradeoff is fierce fits of sweating and heaving, mood changes (or “hysteria” in the old days), and the list goes on and on.

Mary experiences all of the above and then some…

Mary can’t look in the mirror without fainting. She experiences lapses in her memory, particularly her childhood, and the voices in her head whisper cruel taunts and commands of violence.

All simplified to “women’s issues.”

Cassidy created a corner of relatability, and yes, empathy, in Mary, one that normalized King’s Carrie. But for Mary, it’s just another unexplained occurrence in her life, like the killings.

But Mary will make herself heard.

And it’s all a matter of time before everything explodes in a spray of blood.

An extraordinary metaphor for women’s struggles, Mary is edgy as hell. A chilling compilation of horror with masterful storytelling. This book has everything: creepy dolls, serial killers, ghosts, psychological trips, and an acidic humorous take on self-growth.

Be sure to read the afterword titled “What’s This Asshole Doing Writing a Book About Menopause?”

Men, that’s how you be a f*cking ally.

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