It begins with a letter from a prisoner…
As he attempts to rebuild his life in rural Oregon after a tragic accident, Malcolm Mays finds himself corresponding with Dusha Chuchonnyhoof, a mysterious entity who claims to be the owner of Malcolm’s house, jailed unjustly for 117 years. The prisoner demands that Malcolm perform a gory, bewildering task for him. As the clock ticks toward Dusha’s release, Malcolm must attempt to find out whether he’s assisting a murderer or an innocent. The End of the Sentence combines Kalapuya, Welsh, Scottish and Norse mythology, with a dark imagined history of the hidden corners of the American West.
Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard have forged a fairytale of ghosts and guilt, literary horror blended with the visuals of Jean Cocteau, failed executions, shapeshifting goblins, and magical blacksmithery. In Chuchonnyhoof, they’ve created a new kind of Beast, longing, centuries later, for Beauty.
The End of the Sentence is one of those quirky little works, perfect for Halloween; two writers working together to create a novella that employs the strengths of each of them to their best potential. But all collaborations are risky… the question is, do Headley and Howard make it pay off?
Not to spoil the end of the sentence before we start talking about The End of the Sentence, but the answer is a big fat yes when it comes to writing style. Howard and Headley manage to do what few collaborative partnerships achieve, in melding their styles seamlessly, to the point where there doesn’t in fact seem to be a primary writer in any section, or shifts between differen sections; the style is readable, consistent, and a perfect match to the story, somewhere between the creeping fear and monstrosity of horror and the unreality and cloudiness of fairytale. The different voices of the main text versus the letters that form a significant part of The End of the Sentence is amazing; all have the same kind of feel but all also have radically different feels and characters underlying them beautifully.
Those characters in The End of the Sentence are another strength. Each character is not only interestingly human, they’re also uniquely so; they have their personal tragedies and histories, their dark motives and lighter, loving sides. The End of the Sentence is as much about the personal, mundane – that is non-supernatural – tragedies of daily life as it is the horror and supernatural tragedy that hangs over the story; Howard and Headley manage to make a sort of tragedy and a kind of horror come together, and achieve the full ideal of tragedy: catharsis. It’s a beautifully elegant plot, shifting and changing its focus as it is read, never letting the reader feel comfortable with their feet on the ground or their understanding of events; repeatedly, Headley and Howard shift characters and character interactions around, changing the story and its nature, changing its effects on us as readers. It all adds up powerfully and effectively, combining the various facets of the fairytale, the horror and the tragedy together, beautifully emotionally well done.
For a very short piece, for a simple novella, The End of the Sentence packs a huge punch of pathos and catharsis; and the way Headley and Howard subvert our expectations repeatedly is truly exceptional. An amazing, wonderful book.