Short Story Review: “Caro in Carno” by Helen Marshall

4 of 5 stars.

The transition into death has many religious and folk accounts evoking the fantastical and supernatural. This beautiful, dark tale nods toward many predecessors while carving its own path through the lore. The title refers to the Latin for flesh, body and home. The body is a vessel, a home–for the soul, yes, and other things including the potential for further generations of life.

Caroline, aka Caro, at 13 has outlived her parents and resides with her elderly Nan in a vast house of spiraling caverns carved into a salt cliff over the ocean, each room narrower and deeper into the cliff than the last. Atop the cliff lies the sleeping village where Caro goes to fetch potatoes and onions from the grocer in exchange for salt. She’s enamored with Tom, the grocer’s son, but respectfully keeps her thoughts and emotions in check.

One day Tom is sadder than usual and begs kind treatment for his mother. A couple weeks later, the villagers lower a platform to the mouth of Nan’s cavern, and on it lies the grocer’s wife, dead, as all of the villagers are when lowered to the cave. There Caro helps her Nan transport the body through the spiraling chambers, deep into the salt gullet of the Earth until Caro can go no further.

On her next trip to the village, Caro is unwelcomed by Tom, who in his grief blames her for his mother’s death. She runs off with few potatoes and no onions despite dwindling supplies at home. Nan heads to the village for the first time in years to right this wrong. For 3 days, Nan doesn’t return. And when she does, she’s lowered down on the platform . . .

This tale appears in the New Lovecraftian anthology, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran. I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read Marshall’s “All My Love, A Fishhook” and “Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta”–both are very good.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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