Mary Rickert’s The Mothers of Voorhisville is a 2014 novella that was released at the same time as her new novel The Memory Garden. This book is difficult to classify as a subgenre. It’s dark fantasy; it’s magical realism; but I think its most accurate descriptor would be tragic fantasy. Their styles are nothing alike, but the nonlinear narration and brooding quality of the story suggests it may resonate with fans of Caítlin Kiernan’s work.
The narrative format is uniquely and wonderfully strange. There are unreliable narrators, right? And there is this book, which contains several of them. It’s told in and out of first person plural. I’ve read books in first person plural before, but none in which the characters disagreed on the events that had actually transpired.
A stranger enters Voorhisville and seduces several dozen of its women in a very short period of time. Miraculously, each one of them becomes pregnant, even if they were taking birth control. The mothers and their resultant voices are diverse, from the beautiful widow Sylvia who spends most of her time gardening roses to the foul-mouthed teenager Maddy. Some of the mothers think their seducer Jeffrey may have been an angel; others a demon. All agree some magic was involved, for his seduction of them was so easy, though they disagree on the nature of that day: some remember Voorhisville smelling of chocolate, or flowers; but Maddy says, “Let’s just set the record straight, I don’t remember no sweet-smelling day here or any of that shit. Voorhisville is a dump.”
And there’s the fact that all of their babies are born with wings.
There are just enough comic moments to keep this book from becoming too dark. When the mothers begin to discover that their babies have wings, ones that the babies can withdraw and hide at will, they keep it a secret from the world at large and also from each other; for while so many May births to so many women, many of whom don’t seem to have a man in their lives, is an oddity, each mother is too busily exhausted keeping their babies from flying to consider it for more than a moment.
The eventual revelation culminates in a surprising twist, in what is the story of the power of motherhood and the true meaning of what it is to be family.