Monster, She Wrote by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson
Quirk Books (September 2019)
352 pages; $14.01 paperback; $11.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand
Quick, name two classic female horror writers. I’ll wait while you blurt out “Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson.” While there’s no doubt that both of those two have more than earned their place in horror history, there are multitudes that belong alongside them, but whose names have been lost to history. That’s a wrong that Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson are here to right. Their new book, Monster, She Wrote, sheds light on over a hundred women who, as the cover says, “pioneered horror and speculative fiction.”
Monster, She Wrote is divided into sections, a glance at which gives instant insight into the breadth of influence women have had on horror literature, ranging from tales of hauntings and the occult to pulps and paperback horror. Each section includes an introduction that details the roles women have played in that particular realm of horror; for example, the intro to “Paperback Horror” includes cover artists Lisa Falkenstern and Jill Bauman alongside writers like Lois Duncan and Tabitha King, before launching into more in-depth profiles on the likes of Ruby Jean Jensen and V.C. Andrews.
Those in-depth profiles are the meat of the book. Individual authors are covered with some brief biographical information, a look at the themes and tropes found in the writer’s work, and lists of recommended reading. Kröger and Anderson have a knack for unearthing the kind of interesting facts that transform books like this from dry academic tomes to lively histories, such as the way Everil Worrell and her husband would entertain themselves by describing household chores in Lovecraftian terms, or that Margery Lawrence was a part-time ghost hunter.
The authors also refuse to shy away from detailing the difficulties faced by many of the authors they spotlight. They detail the way many of these writers used multiple pen names, sometimes to hide the fact that they were female, sometimes to defuse criticism from those who felt writers who churned out work quickly were hacks and not to be taken seriously.
All of this information — more than I can adequately sum up in a brief review — is presented in a breezy, conversational style that makes it easy to gobble up whole sections at a time. Peppered throughout are nice little asides like a list of creepy names for haunted houses, or an examination of the legend that Mary Shelley kept her poet husband’s heart after his death. Almost all of the pages are graced with spot illustrations by Natalya Balnova; their whimsical style and creepy undertones make them the perfect finishing touch.
Look, it’s not often that I declare a book “important” in a review — I think that’s a distinction that usually can’t be made until well after a book’s publication — but I’m going to make an exception here. Anyone from casual fans to horror historians will benefit from reading this important book. The field of horror literature would be in a much different, much poorer place were it not for the groundwork laid by the women of its past, and its future would not be nearly as bright without the women who are poised to lead it into the future. Monster, She Wrote makes this exceptionally clear, and is highly recommended.