Lately I have a weakness for tiny books that pack as much unsettling detail into their brief little worlds as possible. I’ve been aware for some time that Gordon B. White has a great capacity to unsettle—his novella Rookfield made an appearance here last October and has since lingered in my memory with deliciously horrid vividness—and was eager to see what would happen when he teamed up with another writer of dark and unsettling fiction (I hadn’t previously read any work by Rebecca J. Allred, though I will be certainly be on the lookout after having read this book.)
And In Her Smile, the World is a tricky book to review without revealing too much. I find I don’t want to give away even a hint of its twisty—and profoundly twisted—plot; I think this is the kind of book best enjoyed if you don’t have much of a clue what you’re getting into before you begin.
Here are some things I feel I can say without spoiling the mystery or any other part of this spectacularly freaky experience:
This novella’s fluctuation between the realms of the familiar and the surreal is handled beautifully, creating a sense of ever-shifting footing as the tension increases inexorably toward the conclusion.
Despite how horrifying this book—and the realities it critiques and subverts—can get, in places it is also truly hilarious. This is not a book for anyone in search of easy or comforting amusement, but it did make me laugh out loud in certain satisfying moments. I wouldn’t call it horror comedy, but the laughs are there for those in possession of a certain kind of a sense of humour.
Gore and gross-out body horror aren’t really my cup of tea, but this book’s gruesome details are so nicely calibrated to suit their circumstances that I found myself enjoying them anyway. Very often when reading grisly content I feel an urge to cover my eyes, but at no point did I want to look away from this story.
I don’t always enjoy books written from multiple perspectives—particularly when written by multiple authors—but this one really makes it work. The interplay between voices and experiences heightens the story’s sense of inevitability and neatly ties the threads of the two main characters’ disparate experiences together in ways that show how unavoidably they have been shaped and directed by the same terrible forces. However White and Allred approached writing together, they clearly shared enough of a vision for the book to come out feeling beautifully cohesive.
This is a short, quick read, but it wields its brevity handily to pack a concentrated punch. I’d recommend And In Her Smile, the World to anyone looking for something disturbing that will take up a deceptively small amount of active reading time and then continue to hang around in their head long after the pages have stopped turning.