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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: An Ideal Retreat

12th Feb, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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An Ideal Retreat (Dim Shores chapbook) was released at the end of 2016 in a limited edition of 200 copies, and of course it's now sold out. But if you don't want to go cruising dealer sites in search of a pre-loved copy, the story itself can be found in author Michael Griffin's collection The Human Alchemy published by Word Horde in 2018, so I've put a link to that volume at the foot of the page. No need to thank me.

Meanwhile, back at the review of An Ideal Retreat...

Noone Raddox drives to central Oregon to check out an isolated dwelling that has been in her husband's family for generations and which, having recently been vacated by black sheep Jodah, can now be sold for a tidy sum of money. But instead of the shack she has been primed to expect, Noone discovers a large house with the very latest in décor and design features, in many respects her dream home. Taking up residence, Noone finds that she has a new freedom, away from her manipulative husband and his cheating ways, a freedom that enables her to examine her existence in some depth. But the house keeps changing. There are muddy footprints and a mysterious door to which she doesn't have a key, while a strange film plays on the television. Noone begins to suspect that somebody else is in the house, watching her, perhaps the missing Jodah.

To complicate matters there is the small matter of Noone's overuse of drugs and alcohol so that we don't really know how reliable a narrator she is. Is something outré taking place, or is it all simply a psychodrama unfolding in the mind of a deeply unhappy woman who is in denial, or perhaps some fusion of the two, with the house as a catalyst for all that occurs. I could even, at a stretch, make a case for the 'retreat' being a metaphor for rehab, and all the rest of it just something Noone has cooked up in her own mind to spare herself having to deal with the mess her life has become.

Griffin is superb at capturing the mental state of his protagonist, allowing us to first experience Noone on her own terms, somebody who claims to be comfortable in their own skin, and then deftly unravelling it all to show a truer picture, with events reaching a climax in the final pages as Noone confronts the reality of her situation head on. The house itself is the second player in this story, the outward projection of the character's inner turmoil, her "ideal retreat" at first, but then slowly moving further away from that self-imposed paradigm as Noone herself comes to see the cracks in both house design and her own life.

There are some wonderful touches of macabre detail along the way, not least of which is the eerie film Noone witnesses, with its hints of Satanism and some unearthly cult at play, and the final confrontation with a man/entity she initially believes to be husband Ian. In a sense this is a ghost story without a ghost except for Noone herself, and shot in broad daylight, but no less disturbing for that.

Ultimately we have a note of redemption, with Noone perhaps stumbling onto a path that might work for her, though equally it could simply be that she is accepting the death that waits for all her hopes and dreams, betrayed as surely as the house has betrayed her, entering a solipsistic reality of her own devising, which is just my shorthand for madness. Name confers destiny. Noone is finally, unequivocally, no-one. This story is nothing if not ambiguous, leaving the reader to decide how it has all played out, and all the better for that.




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