It has been a long time since I read anything by Mary SanGiovanni. That really is a shame as I found her work captivating and genuinely scary in the past. Finally, I had a great excuse to dip back into her dark mind with the release of “The Fading Place” by DarkFuse in February. I built up my courage and dove into this short novella looking for a good scare.
Charlie Van Houten is a single mother who has devoted herself to her daughter, Haley. Charlie is so devoted that she even gave up Haley’s father, the man she loved, in order to try to give him and her daughter the best possible life. Charlie had known pain and loss but it was not until she met Simone that she would learn what pain and loss truly mean.
Simone is a deranged lady with a gun who wants Haley to be her daughter and will let nothing stand in her way. When she takes Charlie and Haley hostage in their own car and forces Charlie to drive them toward an unknown destination, Charlie grows increasingly desperate to stop Simone. But as Charlie learns more about Simone, she comes to realize that the gun in her hand may not be the most frightening thing about the woman.
In “The Fading Place,” Mary SanGiovanni brings the reader into every parent’s nightmare and captures the emotions with stunning realism. Charlie must try to take in the situation and then look for a way to gain an advantage while at the same time avoiding any action that could cause her daughter to get hurt. It is clear that Simone is mentally unstable and becoming even more undone as the story progresses but Charlie cannot give in to her desperation. She agonizes when inaction is the only choice to protect her daughter even if that same inaction prevents her from taking a chance at freedom. I could feel the tension, anger, and pain that Charlie was feeling as I was reading the story and this emotion made the story much stronger than it otherwise would have been.
The real strength of the novella, however, comes from Simone. While it would easy for SanGiovanni to have just made the character an insane and completely reprehensible monster, she does not take that easy way out. Even in this short novella, SanGiovanni crafts Simone into a complex character with a substantive background that explains, if not excuses, her monstrous behavior. Even though Simone is the villain of the novella, she is a well-rounded character that the reader can relate to and even sympathize with. Simone is not just an insane caricature of evil. She is a human. By exploring her dark side, SanGiovanni makes the reader thing about not just what she is doing but why she is doing it. This has a huge effect on the story and changes the focus of the story. The reader is challenged to think about exactly what it means to be a victim and even who the real victim in the story really is. Simone’s actions are monstrous but SanGiovanni seems to be challenging the reader to think about the situation as a whole and decide if Simone is a monster or if she is just as human as the reader. That is what makes this story so scary.
I would like to give a special thank you to DarkFuse and NetGalley for this advanced review copy. “The Fading Place” is scheduled to be released by DarkFuse in February and is now available for preorder.