Attention Gone Girl fans: Sarah Weinman has some stories for you. Gillian Flynn's success inspired the editor and critic to search for Flynn's crime-writing foremothers, and the result is Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives — a collection of 14 "domestic suspense" stories from names like Shirley Jackson and Margaret Millar. The works span the forgotten period of the 1940s to the 1970s, when these writers were grappling with the struggles of a limiting society.
In Troubled Daughters, Weinman wants to call attention to "an entire generation of female crime writers who have faded from view." Unlike male-oriented detective fiction, domestic suspense stories focus on a world with "small stakes" — but the result is equally if not more chilling.
The first entry, "The Heroine" by Patricia Highsmith, is particularly disturbing. It's the tale of a governess who will go to any lengths to prove how devoted she is to the family she serves:
. . . if there came an earthquake . . . She would rush in among falling walls and drag the children out. Perhaps she would go back for some trifle, like Nicky's lead soldiers of Heloise's paint set, and be crushed to death. Then the Christiansens would know her devotion.
This theme of women trying to prove themselves, to be more than their circumstances allow, runs throughout the collection. Weinman writes that these authors "turn our most deep-seated worries into narrative gold, delving into the dark side of human behavior that threatens to come out with the dinner dishes, the laundry, or taking care of a child." While the stories mostly take place in the home — Weinman has loosely chronologically ordered them by the age of the protagonist, from girl, to mother, to elderly woman — nothing about them is comforting. True fear, Weinman shows, comes from feeling trapped by what surrounds you, and it doesn't matter whether that's a dark alley or your own kitchen.
Not every story has a big twist, but all are disquieting. (Shirley Jackson's contribution is more depressing than anything else.) Still, Weinman's produced a compelling collection of eerie little disturbances that readers won't soon forget.
Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives is available today from Penguin.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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