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Review: In Dreams We Rot by Betty Rocksteady

Author: Betty Rocksteady 
Release date: October 18, 2019
Bugs, Botany, Bodies: The Three B’s of Betty Rocksteady
By S. L. Edwards

Confession time: I have been a fan and friend of Betty Rocksteady since I first entered into the scene two years ago. The first authors you come to know when you come into the field are those you share a table of contents with, and Betty and I ran in very similar circles. We where both frequent contributors to Turn To Ash, though she managed to outpace me. For very good reason. I was absolutely thrilled when her story “Dusk Urchin,” made it into Justin Steele and Sam Cowan’s Looming Low, as clear a sign as any that Betty had made it. And when you talk to fans of Betty’s, it’s quite clear that they like the person as much as the writer. Her fondness for cats, dyed hair and old cartoons are notorious. 

I say all this to make the disclaimer that when In Dreams We Rot was announced I was thrilled. Just, absolutely over the moon. Because now a whole new cadre of readers would know what I and fans of Betty have known for a long time. Along with being one of the friendliest, most supportive people in the field, she is one of our best writers. 

Betty’s fiction squelches and burps. It’s slimy and uncomfortable. It is gross and loving. Thoughtful and cutting. It manages to walk a line between body and literary horror, and is certainly Weird with a capital W. 

For the sake of fun, I think we can categorize Betty’s fiction with “three B’s:” Bugs, Botany and Bodies. These are certainly a… preoccupation for Betty, as anyone who knows her will tell you. But the results of this preoccupation are fun, thoughtful and unforgettable stories. It is rare for a writer to so masterfully capture their niche, and Betty’s vines are thick and choking around it. 

The opening story is a short, painful read. “Love is Not a Handful of Seeds,” displays the 3Bs in their prime. A body made of plants, beetles scuttling along it. But the emotional core of the story is a lost love, the death of a romance that could have been so much more. “Tiny Bones Beneath Their Feet,” is a Body story, though it speaks to Betty’s genuine love of cats too. To avoid spoilers, I’ll only say that the final two paragraphs of this story show exactly why Betty is such a master.

Another recurring and powerful trend is the sense of panic in Betty’s characters. In “Something is Coming,” the main character is exposed to a toxic love. Leah knows it, but it’s that kind of irrational, painful longing that seizes and controls you despite every rational safeguard. And that’s the terror. That’s the core of it. And Lord have mercy, it resonates. 

“These Beautiful Bones.” Perhaps “Bones” constitutes a fourth B. A woman escapes another toxic romance, only to uncover bones and a macabre secret to her new apartment. There’s also a bit of humor to Betty’s stories: 

“It had been wrong to fuck the skeleton.”

Never have I been so jealous of a line someone else has written.

This aside, the story is a hammer to the gut. Not a punch, a big fucking sledgehammer to the stomach and intestines. 

Now, “The Botany of Desire,” has been a favorite ever since I read it in Unnerving. A man has a crush. Man gives crush a plant. The terror that comes is just like that of first falling in love with someone. You lose your sense of direction, your ability to sleep. Your thoughts start to feel alien, and as warm as it is, it is different. In this sense, those first baby steps toward love are terrifying. And Betty captures that here. This is good, literary terror written beneath a beating green heart.

All this talent might confine a writer to a niche if they were not careful. And do not get me wrong, this rotten green ground is Betty’s. Trespassers beware. But Dreams gives us a taste of a Weird master too. Someone with an unmistakable, unique and powerful voice. 

Earlier I mentioned “Dusk Urchin.” The story is one of the best Weird Fiction tales written in the 21st century. It was the standout of “Looming Low.” The story concerns a lost child, whose presence warps the narrator. Slowly she loses her sense of self, overcome with amnesia and confusion. It is one of my favorite stories, but remarkably it is not my favorite in the collection. 

We’ll get to that later.

“Postpartum” is another favorite making a reappearance in this collection. It deals with, as the title suggests, postpartum depression. A woman does not know, does not love her baby. What she does know, what she does love, is taxidermy. The result is one of the most haunting tales in the collection. 

“The Taste of Sand on Your Lips” is inventive, a series of connected flash fiction pieces melding fantasy and cat horror. One of the most innovative, cool and creative things that I’ve read. “The Elephants That Aren’t” and “The Backwards Path to the Limbus,” are likewise stories that we might place firmly in the Weird category. “Elephants” made its debut in the now famous “Lost Films” anthology from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, concerning a desperate artist and a haunting cartoon. In a very cool addition, Betty includes an illustration for this story (she’s an artist too, damn her). “Limbus” is another tale of loss and depression, where therapy and dreams congeal to reveal a hidden, almost Ligotti-esque truth to the Universe. “Limbus” reminds me of “Vastarien.” This alone warrants Betty’s place amongst our best.

But now, my favorite. One that just completely drowned me.

“Crimson Tide.” 

I have never been a young woman. I have never felt the stigmas that come with menstruation. But damn. Damn did this story make me feel. The sadness and the desperation take you away, and the weighty theme only further drags you down. Reading this story, you almost can’t breathe. And that’s why, for all the jewels in this collection, “Crimson Tide” is the most brilliant to me. 

Of course, dear reader, your mileage may vary. And there is plenty here for everyone. For the horror fan. For the broken heart. For someone looking to laugh or someone needing to cry. 

You’ll find yourself coming back to this book, as I did. Admiring the dark trees and the fetid foliage. Eventually you’ll learn to sink in, to euphorically rot in this dream that friends and fans of Betty have kept to themselves for far too long. 

S. L. Edwards is a Texan currently traveling across Latin America. He enjoys dark fiction, dark poetry and darker beer. His debut short story collection 'Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts' is available from Gehenna and Hinnom Books.


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