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Loath Letters

Loath Letters - Christy Leigh Stewart, Megan Hansen Does this look to you like somebody who would write a fun book? Not to me it doesn’t.; it looks like a picture you might get with a ransom note. Yet Christy Leigh Stewart’s Loath Letters is fun, if not quite what I expected. I thought it would be a bunch of short stories about… well, I don’t know really, something dark and depraved, I guess; maybe a gang of Goth girls who kill a CVS stockboy when they discover the store is out of black nail polish, and then grind him up and bake him into a pie or something. Wrong! Instead, it’s more like what you might get if you held an essay contest in an insane asylum. Well, for part of the book, anyhow. Loath Letters isn’t comprised of short stories; it’s a collection of letters (as the title clearly states, come to think of it) and (auto?)biographical essays. Each one is only about two or three pages long, and is essentially a character sketch of some darkly fascinating individual inhabiting Ms. Stewart's imagination. Most of these start off innocently enough, like one of those “Hello, My Name is ____” stickers they ask you to wear at an alumni mixer. Oh My God You Guys! or About Our Date or The Player are all like that. After the sweet opening, however, each of these essay eventually hits a snag of some sort to alert the reader that the narrator is not the wholesome, well-adjusted character you may have initially imagined. In the end, every story goes south, exposing something dark and possibly criminal about the storyteller that you wouldn't talk about in polite society -not that polite society ever did anything for anybody. That's how it often is in real life though, isn't it? You meet somebody who seems perfectly "normal" at first blush, but if you get to know them well enough... the good the bad, and the ugly... eventually you'll learn something bad or ugly enough to scare you. And if it's any kind of relationship at all, you are simultaneously scaring them with your derrangements. Maybe not as scary as on these pages, but scary enough for real life. I like to call that snag the “tipping point”. I'm oversimplifying the book a bit; these letters aren't all so formulaic (the marine biologist one, for example, is not; and certainly the essay on feminism is not), but let's stick with those ones for now. I'd love to give you a sample, but instead of spoiling any of the actual loath letters (each one is so good, in its own way), I’ll try to make up an example from Norman Bates of the movie “Psycho”. If he wrote a loath letter, it would go something like this:Hi- my name is Norman. I run a small motel with my mother off the state highway. It’s a lot of work, keeping even a small motel clean and comfortable for guests… a lot of work for me, that is. Mother just sits in her chair and never does any work. While I’m vacuuming rugs and washing windows, she just sits there. While I’m doing the laundry and scrubbing the toilet, she just sits there. While I’m sanitizing the telephones and cutting the lawn, she just sits there. It’s probably just as well; if she ever got up, her skin would probably fall off. I wish I had had the presence of mind to properly embalm her when she passed away in 1961. It’s just that I had a lot on my mind that day; I still had to chase down and murder the young couple who witnessed me planting an axe in the back of Mother’s head during an argument. Then I had to put their bodies into a car, and roll it into a shallow pond. That doesn’t sound like much, but it took me several hours, and completely wore me out. I didn’t get anything else done that day. You realize, now that I’ve told you all this, I ‘ll have to kill you too, right? Don’t look at me all sad like that, it isn’t my rule. It’s Mother’s.I didn't do a good job of that. Christy Stewart is truly inspired with some of these, but you get the general idea. So, is all of this just for shock value? If you know Christy, you know that's part of it, but if you know her, you also know there's more to it than that. Even Norman Bates has some complexity and sympathy as a character. Sure he shocks us, but can't we also regard him as a person and grieve at the mistreatment that has brought him to his present state? We can. But back to the tipping point business: in my little paragraph there, the tipping point is the sentence about his mother’s skin falling off. Whenever I thought I was on one of those surprise twist letters, I would read right up to the tipping point, and then I’d put down the book and try to think up the most fucked up ending I possibly could… then I would resume reading, and see if I had managed to out-psychopath Christy Leigh Stewart. Wait! Does this mean I'm pointing at Christy, and saying she's a psycho? Isn't that mean? Well, yes and no. However she dreamed up these pained, if twisted stories, she somehow drew on her own experiences to form them. She's an honest writer, pouring these things out onto the paper... and I'm some snarky reviewer coming along and saying she's fucked up? Where do I get off? Well, sometimes I did manage to "out-psychopath" her... drawing from my own experiences. We are all depraved, to one degree or another. Bless Christy's heart for sharing these visions, wherever they came from, and however they were formulated. To take things even further, I'm going to say that reading this was only the beginning of the fun I plan to have with Loath Letters. I envision many good times to come with this book at parties. Once I get my guests loosened up with a few drinks, I’ll bring out Loath Letters and ask if anybody wants to play a few rounds of Are You More Fucked Up than Christy Leigh Stewart? It should be a laugh-riot, watching friends and family struggle to plunge deeper into the abyss than Christy herself. What a great ice-breaker! And if a few hideous and unsettling psychological aberrations are revealed in those closest to me… well, so much the better. At least we're having an authentic experience, rather than talking about the last hockey game, or watching some bullshit Hollywood movie together. Plus, isn't it better to know how warped my friends are now, rather than later... before they try to drug me and pull me down into their lair of psychosexual horrors? (Loath Letters makes a great gift too! Order yours today!) I hope none of this fun I'm having comes off as dismissive of what the author is doing here. I may joke because I'm uncomfortable with some of the subject matter. Make no mistake: there is a very serious side to this book; Christy explores some difficult topics very honestly. I have no doubt that every single one of these letters deals with a subject that looms large as a source of pain for somebody, somewhere. There is a lot of silent agony going on behind closed doors, in the bowed heads of strangers we pass on the street, or ride the bus with, or walk together but alone with down the isles of the local supermarket each week. How do you deal with that? How can I read a story about [a woman who disfigures herself for life, because her boyfriend dumped her these things] and relate it to my own life? I think the message is that things are not always as they seem, and that all of us have mental scars of some sort, just as all of us have physical scars. Some are more grusome than others. We are each social animals, so getting by in the company of others is a survival skill. Part of that skill is keeping our darker side hidden. I’m not saying we’re all a bunch of homicidal maniacs, but each of us has had inner thoughts we know it would be better not to broadcast too widely- be it a disproportionate jealousy or anger, a poorly-controlled temper, obsessions or compulsions we know it would be difficult to explain, taboo fantasies, lingering scars from some past trauma, or whatever else. The specifics are different for each person, but we all have something, and that’s just talking about people who exist somewhere in the middle of the bell curve. Out toward the fringes, there are those who still appear mainstream, but who are more fundamentally warped. They may have a hard time keeping a lid on their sociopath fantasies or twisted delusions. It is really only the furthest minority at 3+ standard deviations from the norm whom we tend to identify as troubled in some way… but even then, we may not always detect them, or detection may take a very long time. Consider how many years John Wayne Gacy passed for an upstanding citizen, before his murder spree was finally exposed. People like Gacy are out there right now. The minds of strangers can be a hidden world of terrors, thinly covered by a veneer of the commonplace. As a graduate of Mistaktonic University, Ms. Stewart is probably familiar with the H.P. Lovecraft story “From Beyond”. It’s about a device which allows its user to see horrible other-dimensional creatures who share our space, but who do not interact with us, and whom we cannot perceive, until the machine removes the inter-dimensional barrier. Some peoples' demons are like those creatures… unseen, but present right here among us. I regard Loath Letters as the device Christy built to expose them. Using said instrument is not for the faint of heart. If part of you wants to argue that most people aren’t as crazy up as all that… first consider that Christy managed to think up all these stories, and she’s loose on the streets!Lest you think I’m casting myself in the well-adjusted role, standing back and pointing to others as the demented, let me admit: my copy of Loath Letters has a great personalized autograph by the author, in which she tells me that I make her paranoid. That ought to buy me some street cred with the Goth crowd!(((Christy)))SPECIAL NOTES:-shout out to Megan Hansen for some cool art!-K.I. Hope: you'll like the story Beachfront Funeral.-Loath Letters is not all ponderous and gloomy; the Backstreet Boys 2001 World Tour and Addiction stories are pretty funny