“Bad Dolls” by Rachel Harrison

Genre: Horror Bad Dolls
Publisher: Berkley Group
Pub. Date: December 6, 2022

In these four short stories, Harrison explores the strange happenings in women’s lives as they face shocking, peculiar, and sometimes terrifying events. The themes in this collection center on female body image, complicated friendships, and heartbreak, all written in a spooky manner. One could say that this is a horror women’s fiction novel. However, with lines such as, “I always imagined rage to be a red, chaotic state. But it’s quiet and translucent and euphoric” there is a literary vibe to the collection.

In “Reply Hazy, Try Again,” a young woman purchases a Magic 8 ball that promises to answer your questions by seeing into the future. The seller had no idea where the toy originated from among his flea market bins. Thus, the author introduces the story with a tinge of strangeness. The toy’s responses don’t take long to become too intimate. Similar to when you detect someone cheating on an Ojuju board, but with the ball, there is no other person. This is not a particularly scary tale. It is more a clever way to explore our sexuality.

The story of “Bachelorette” centers on a woman who attends one of her sorority sisters’ bachelorette party, despite not wanting to attend the entire weekend-long celebration. This genuine horror story explores our morals, but mostly how we dislike feeling left out or behind, even though we may have drifted apart from old friends. Spoiler: The woman thinks, “If I’d been told in advance about the blood sacrifice.” There is also some humor in this one. Think “The Witches of Eastwick.”

In “Goblin,” a woman tries out a new software app that offers a cute little goblin-like figure to help its users to attain their weight loss objectives. However, her goblin ends up being anything but adorable. Every time she wants to eat, it terrorizes her. At first, I thought this was a comedy because I did laugh a lot as the author shows us how silly we can be about our weight. However, the main character has an eating disorder, which is what the story is truly about, making this a sad insightful read.

My favorite in the collection is “Bad Dolls.”  Besides the horror elements, unlike the other shorts, there are fully developed themes of family, grief, selfishness, and sacrifice that could warrant a full-length novel. After losing her little sister, a headstrong woman reluctantly returns to her hometown to be nearer to her family during their crisis. Staying at her childhood home would be too painful. She leases a room in a boarding house and discovers a porcelain doll that no one remembers who it belonged to or where it originated. We watch her slowly go crazy as she becomes attached to the doll in a way that she never did with her family.

The entire collection explores feminine motivations and the reasons behind female behavior, particularly under duress, often with a hint of humor. Despite the stories’ predictability, I did enjoy the collection and recommend this book. I would have loved it if Harrison pushed herself a little harder to give more substance to each story other than the obvious.

I received this novel at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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