Review: “The Other Box” by Gerard Houarner

2 of 5 stars.

Horror and isolation set in when a child goes missing, often rending relationships. The not-knowing creates a psychological horror tinged with madness. But what about when multiple children go missing, one by one?

This tale wavers between psychological horror and absurdist in its narration, fixating on origami boxes as objects of horror. Possibly a Japanese or Korean horror film could pull off this premise, but that is doubtful. Nevertheless, before any disappearances Samarra freaks over a feather-light, cranium-sized box found in her locked and alarmed dwelling. But she doesn’t open it–she goes to pick up her 3 children: Rey [4 y.o.], Mirabel [6 y.o.] and Justine [9 y.o.]. Justine, her child obsessed with dreams and nightmares, isn’t at the dance lesson. Mirabel, obsessed with angels, says an angel took Justine. Somehow, between the bus from school to dance and the lesson, Justine vanishes.

The box, the only clue, contains nothing. The kids are split up and taken away. And the next one disappears. . .

The undecided genre undermines the tale. A child disappearing absolutely is a realistic, psychological horror that would trigger much of what ensues [a marriage on the rocks, shrines to children, reliving in anxious detail the events of the traumatic day]. Obsessing over origami boxes before anyone disappears is an odd contrivance that only happens in horror films. It takes the realism into absurdism and deflates the psychological aspect as improbable, if not impossible–especially with children disappearing by differing methods. And children not acting like children, ie Mirabel somehow writing strange angelic script on the cathedral ceilings of the house–she’s 6. The contrived horror films only work by camera tricks and shock effects, neither of which translate to the written page.

This short story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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