USEREVIEW 108 (Capsule): Tear
Tear (Invisible Publishing, 2022)
ISBN | 978-1-77843-006-0 | 304 pp | $22.95 CAD | BUY Here
The latest addition to the ‘monstrous feminine‘ literary canon is Erica McKeen‘s debut novel Tear. Aptly described by its synopsis as a “horrifyingly deformed Bildungsroman,” Tear shadows its protagonist, Frances, from her childhood with a deadbeat father, an ambivalent mother and her only friend Jasper, to her early adulthood as a reticent and isolated young woman on the verge of finishing undergrad. When we meet Frances, she is literally and figuratively trapped: hopeless and directionless, living in a dingy basement apartment below three roommates who never think of her, let alone speak to her, but worse still she’s convinced that there is something strange inhabiting the basement walls and her only exit is locked. She screams and beats at the door leading upstairs but no one in the house seems to hear her.
McKeen effectively conveys Frances’ claustrophobic panic, while also dropping hints that Frances’ entrapment might have more to do with cycles of trauma than with physical imprisonment. True to its status as a kind of Bildungsroman, Tear does grant Frances an escape from her stagnation — but it’s not the kind of escape any reasonable person would expect, and it’s here that the novel really takes off. Quiet psychological terror gives way to outright horror, replete with grotesque bodies and restrained but unambiguous gore, as vengeance comes for all the unsuspecting men who have done Frances wrong. This is not pulp fiction, though. The genre elements are counterbalanced by a bleak, contemplative view of gender relations that is tonally reminiscent of the likes of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye.
You might be inclined to read the title Tear as tɪ(ə)r, an expression of sadness (or hysteria) that sexists associate with femininity, but this is tɛ(ə)r, through and through — a novel of rendings.
Chapter 19 (pp. 157–164) is when the novel changes gears, from the slow burn of ordinary sublunary dread to the adrenaline rush of a full-on fright fest.