Dear Laura is one of the finest novella’s that I have read, the stylistic qualities on show are sublime, the prose is taut as if at any moment it’ll snap and whip the reader – maiming them at any given moment. The uniqueness of the story is another masterstroke with Amor dropping us right into the middle of this perpetual nightmare and with a flashback narrative Amor drops in the detail on a need to know basis which engage the reader further in the discovery of this monstrous tale.
Every year, on her birthday, Laura gets a letter from a stranger. That stranger claims to know the whereabouts of her missing friend Bobby, but there’s a catch: he’ll only tell her what he knows in exchange for something…personal.
I recently read Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Consider This‘ a memoir / writing craft book and within it Palahniuk details Chekhov’s Gun – a process / dramatic principle that the whole story hangs on, a trimming of the fat that makes every element necessary – this tool can also help to build tension (if you’re given a timeline or a count down – chapters counting down or moving us towards the end of the initial timeline given at the start), a slow burning at the edges of the story that build unconsciously in the readers mind from the subtle hints laid out from the first act and before you know it you are in the midst of a raging fire.
Amor delivers this with a deft touch, her narrative focuses on our protagonist Laura as she is walking towards a destination (which we are introduced to in act one), a destination that she has a time limit to get to, and with each passing chapter, each flashback – once we are returned to the forest and her walk, we are reintroduced again to Chekhov’s Gun as it were, as we move closer to the showdown that must happen. The elements that Amor has sewn delicately into her prose begin to build in a way that we see all the pieces at the right time (for example what is it that she has wrapped in a towel in her backpack). It’s a delightful tool that Amor wields with a master touch and pulls the reader in and her prose with an energy that never lets up, so by the stories conclusion we are panting with exhaustion and desperate for the nightmare to end – much like her protagonist.
What I loved about Dear Laura is that although it’s a peculiar tale, many moving parts, unspeakable acts and with monster which was brilliantly envisioned by Amor (X) – I never once doubted her story, it was believable and I was fully invested, I didn’t question anything. From the initial abduction of her boyfriend, the letters she receives, to the acts she has to perform – I was pulled into the story like a willing passenger into a head on collision. I couldn’t escape even if I wanted to, so I just sat there, buckled in and had a front row seat to the carnage that was taking place before me.
The moments of horror are delicately handled but have a visceral impact on the reader as we witness what someone is capable of to get closure – that someone would willingly break themselves apart to make others whole, that in the midst of despair there is quite possibly healing – but at what cost.
The character of X is another tremendous creation by Amor and although we only really get an understanding of him through letters, its enough to make you marrow turn cold. X is a character that has many layers and Amor does a fabulous job at revealing this, one layer at a time, like a rotten onion, with each peeling back of the skin we discover that the rot is all the way to the core and the closer we get to the centre, its heart – the more pungent and disgusting it becomes. X is a character to hate and I enjoyed hating him – and that shows the writing calibre of Amor, to move her reader in total disdain and disgust of a fictional character is phenomenal, my hate was almost palpable – and for this I applaud Amor!
Dear Laura is fabulous and I can’t praise this book or Gemma Amor enough – if you are after something that is both shocking and horrifically beautiful then take a journey and discover this little atrocity for yourself – where guilt and grief are the tools for the ultimate manipulation of character and spirit.
Dear Laura is available here.
Gemma Amor is a horror fiction author from Bristol, in the UK. Her debut collection of short stories, Cruel Works of Nature, was published in 2018.
Gemma also writes for anthology audio dramas like the wildly popular NoSleepPodcast. She is co-creator, writer and voice actor for horror-comedy podcast Calling Darkness, and hopes to release her spooky cowboy show Whisper Ridge Soon.
Her next book will be paranormal mystery novel White Pines, followed by another short story collection called Till the Score is Paid. Gemma’s influences range from Carter to King, Shakespeare to Shelley, and she has a particular love for mis-understood monsters and women with an axe to grind.
Review by Ross Jeffery
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