Paul LaFarge, in a September, 2014, issue of The New Yorker, begins his story “Rosendale” plainly: “Dara lives in a ramshackle white house on top of a steep hill.” The adjectives are even a bit sleepy. But by the end of the piece, the prose wakes up. An art project created by the protagonist’s friend – LaFarge calls it a “golem” – becomes animated and begins to haunt her waking life, until she realizes her drug habit is out of control. A moment of tenderness between the girl and the monster alludes obliquely to Shelley’s Frankenstein, which appears intermittently throughout the text.
Who would have guessed a story that begins this innocuously would end so subversively?
April P, a transplant from the east coast, convinces her roommate Dara to engage in a horror story contest, much like the famous competition between Mary, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron that produced Frankenstein. Ostensibly, both of the girls produce uninspired writing. But several pages later, LaFarge reaches out to seize the reader by the lapels:
“Notice that we haven’t mentioned the golem in a while. Maybe it got tired of April P and moved on to another club? But the thing about horror stories is that they let you believe life has gone back to normal only in order to surprise you again.”
Well, it worked, dear reader, because I was surprised by this declaration. Up until this point, we did not know we were actually reading a horror story. “Rosendale” surprised and delighted and, yes, frightened me. I loved this bizarrely poignant story about a troubled girl who finds her muse the hard way. I really did. Perhaps my lack of irony is a bit… spooky? I hope not. When have I ever been ironic, anyway? It is the least entertaining of all literary devices, after all.