Ada and her father live in a clearing in the woods outside the town; the townsfolk, or Cures, come to them for healing. But they’re not really doctors, and neither do they seem quite human, and the Ground, the earth surrounding their home, isn’t exactly your standard loamy sod. Ada’s father made and raised her from the Ground, as his father did before him, and now they’ve got to watch it doesn’t take them back. Meanwhile their work is to delve into the literal viscera of the Cures to dispel their ailments, with the help of a worked-over patch of Ground to aid the most difficult cases. Both father and daughter are ancient and they keep to themselves, until Ada gets fixates on a male Cure, Samson, who wants her to leave with him. But there’s something off about Samson and his sister Olivia, and Ada’s father isn’t happy…
Sue Rainsford’s debut novel is short and extremely unsettling: think Shirley Jackson meets the Brothers Grimm. It’s pretty elliptical – Ada doesn’t spell too much out about her strange life and stranger embodiment – and all the creepier for it; it evokes a kind of crawling physical unease (the putting of the sleeping Cures into the Ground is particularly alarming) that straddles the divide between fairy tale and horror, in the same way that House of Leaves made architectural space feel horribly uncanny. But it’s not all subtle disquietude: there’s a simmering sexuality to Ada, and her narration isn’t as straightforward as you’d first think. The story doesn’t shift much from their house, the language is simple, and the events are, in the main, low-key, but, man, does the tension ratchet up, and the way Rainsford shifts our perceptions of the characters is phenomenal. If you’ve ever gotten worried about flesh and corporality and human/animal nature and the blurred edges around physical need and morality, this is the book for you – it’s clever and freaky, but all the thought-provoking stuff around liminal desire and possession is packaged in a story that emulates a modern-day folk-tale.
Any Cop?: Definitely worth a read, especially for horror fans – it’s a one-or-two-sitting read, but a riveting one.