The last story in Furnace, “The Unattainable,” isn’t a horror story like the other in the collection. Instead this is an erotic, feverish, rough romance, one focused on the same question Livia Llewellyn asks in many of these stories – and central to BDSM. How much of your power can you place in another person’s hands? What is the amount of agency you will sacrifice for the sake of an incredible experience, for someone – or something – greater than yourself?
Being focused primarily on female characters, unease, consent, and the potential for exploitation are baked into Llewellyn’s stories. There is the patriarchy to deal with, after all. “The Last, Clean Bright Summer” looks at a horrific, Lovecraftian mating ritual from the heartbreaking perspective of a young girl who is very much not able to make any choice in the matter. “Allochthon” meanwhile takes the Groundhog Day concept of a time loop into the mind of a trapped housewife reaching some kind of transcendent breakthrough as a result – or is it violent insanity?
Llewellyn is clearly concerned about how women can be manipulated and controlled by men, robbed of much independent choice at all. She’s also propelled by that numinous feeling described by S.L. Varnado, so common to horror, of intensive, cathartic religious dread. The mall shopper in “Lord of the Hunt” is compelled by this feeling to spend all of her savings on a rather phallic, equestrian statue. Previous story “Yours Is The Right To Begin” turns the Dracula story on it’s head, in part by focusing on Mina’s new, truly sapphic powers of vampirism. The prose in each piece is appropriately lush, delicate yet heavy, similar to Clive Barker or Caitlin Kiernan, the process of reading them like watching vines give way to a great, endless jungle.
I picked up this book a year after release and am happy that Llewellyn is apparently publishing something new this year. It would have been a shame if Furnace was her final release. No matter what she does next, the writer should be proud of writing something so dark, so immersed in the thorny, decadent Sublime.
What did everyone think of Furnace?