As a genre, ‘weird fiction’ is defined by its peripheral position on the boundaries of mainstream literature. Hoag’s multi-authored short story collection, all penned by female writers, encompasses this position by utilising a concoction of genres such as horror, science fiction, fairy tale and even Greek mythology, all with a shared thematic concern, namely( as the title suggests), the relationship between mothers and daughters. Nothing within the indeterminate classification of “weird” is left untouched, from macabre insectile kittens to astronauts trapped in a 1960s teen beach flick. For this second volume in the collection, Hoag returns with some of the world’s biggest female writers such as Nancy A. Collins, Sandra McDonald and Alex Dally MacFarlane. While some of the stories are notably short, even the briefest amongst them are hauntingly absorbing due to their originality and the ‘sense of weird’ that defines them.
What is most striking about the collection is the shared emphasis on imagery in conveying female suppression. Merrie Haskell’s opening story ‘Huntswoman’, a feminist subversion of the Snow White fairy tale, replaces the huntsman and prince, who portray male heroism in the fable, with an eponymous female figure. Upon waking each morning, the incongruous heroine finds her world literally narrowed as “the window had become an arrow slit, the table by the bed had become a tray, and the bed had become a cot.” While the imagery is not the only driving force in this commendable introductory story, it is certainly the most notable feature, taking the simple concept of constricted opportunities for women in a phallocentric society and applying it symbolically to the physical world surrounding the huntswoman.
A similar use of imagery in conveying female subdual can be recognised in Nicole Cushing’s ‘Non Evidens.’ However, unlike Haskell’s subtler metaphor, Cushing’s story relies upon its central image of an invisible daughter. Born with a rare birth defect, daughter Harper is diagnosed a “non-evidens”, making her completely invisible, much to the horror and shame of her mother Janet. Whilst presenting us with a dreadful mother rather than daughter, Cushing uses the simple image of invisibility in order to comment on the media’s obsession with female appearance as well as maternal pressures and inabilities to see their daughters in anything other than the role they have envisaged for them.
While the previous stories mentioned have feminist undertones and critical agendas, others in the collection are less female-orientated. Sandra McDonald’s ‘Space Blanket Bingo’ casts astronaut Colonel Frank Merullo as the lead character, leaving female roles to 1960s bikini clad bimbos, claiming that “every beach-bunny is somebody’s daughter.” In doing so, McDonald justifies a place in Hoag’s collection by including “somebody’s daughter”, even if only as a minor character, but also by her adherence to the broad categorisation of ‘weird’ because of Merullo’s bizarre displacement. Other stories, notably Janett L. Grady’s ‘Thieves Don’t Scream’, do not cast women, either mothers or daughters, in sympathetic or heroic roles, but rather as ferocious villains. Grady’s villain and main protagonist Amy is a ghoul, an almost sexual predator who thrives on living flesh.
In the end, Hoag’s collection delivers what its unusual title implies: a series of weird female-written pieces, all equally bizarre in their originality. Despite the narrowing classification of this volume to ‘Dreadful Daughters’ the extent of imagination and creativity from the writers is not diminished. Within these pages, one does not find piece after piece of bad-seed drama, but rather each writer’s own individual exploration of the boundless and vague world of weird fiction.