Sometimes the things you hear about at sleepovers after too much pizza, Mountain Dew, and rounds of Dream Phone stay with you forever. Somebody says “Hey, have you guys heard of Bloody Mary?” and all thoughts about finishing the latest Mary-Kate and Ashley movie are out the window.
Well, we’re not finding out tonight now are we, Stacy?
Of course, the story is always told like a Biblical ancestry to give it a sense of authenticity: “My older sister Kristy’s friend Amanda said her younger sister Sarah came running out of the bathroom crying and saying Bloody Mary really jumped out the mirror when she did it.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who laughed at the story of Bloody Mary and then once I was in a front of a mirror with the lights off, the dare to say her name three times didn’t seem so easy anymore.
Gwendolyn Kiste has done something really special with Pretty Marys All in a Row—she’s taken all of those horrific Marys we sang about as kids or talked about and dared each other over at sleepovers and woven their stories together to give us an empowering tale about ownership and sisterhood. The story is told through Resurrection Mary—a girl who haunts lonely highways waiting for unsuspecting good Samaritans and dudes up to no good alike to offer her a ride so she can feed on their screams. (Her favorites are the guys who had other things in mind when picking up a girl all by herself—they seem to have the most fear). She along with the infamous Bloody Mary, Mistress Mary (quite contrary), Mary Mack (all dressed in black with silver buttons down her back—apparently a riddle for the word “coffin”), and a few other Marys I was less familiar with live together in an old mansion. There they gather every night to feed off the screams they collected. But lately, a mysterious Darkness seems to be feeding off the Marys instead, and Resurrection Mary (or Rhee as she calls herself) must figure out what it is before she loses the only family she remembers having.
Pretty Mary’s All in a Row is sort of genius in that the story does for the reader exactly what the plot does for the Marys—the Marys’ tales have always belonged to everyone else, but now we get to see things from their perspective as they fight for control of their fate. In the same way the Marys battle the Darkness and refuse to become a muffled part of a history controlled by someone else, Kiste in less than one hundred pages gives these semi-anonymous undead-women lives. Kiste of course plays on the spooky nature of their histories, but never lets the Marys be just a device for thrills and chills. If anything, I thought the story could have used some more scares—the backstories for these ladies leaves plenty of room to establish more unsettling and creeping dread that I think Kiste could have used a bit more to her advantage. But, I also appreciate that Kiste didn’t rely on the obvious and instead spent more time letting us see the Marys as real characters and not just scare tactics.
One other element I wasn’t a fan of was the repetitious nature of the story—Rhee wakes up, eats screams, feeds sisters, and goes to sleep with slowly-increasing questioning about the mysterious Darkness thrown in as the story progresses. It got monotonous after a bit, but I think maybe that was a way to illustrate how the Marys must feel. They’ve got to do the same thing every day and are always wondering about and wanting more. If I got bored with it after less than a hundred pages, I can’t imagine spending an entire afterlife the same way. I also would have liked to know each of the Marys a little more—I loved Resurrection Mary the most since we got to see inside her head (ha, because ghost), so I think the story would have benefited from a bit more fleshing out of the other characters as well (I’m on a roll with these terrible ghost jokes).
From page one I thought that this story was begging to be made into a film…possibly something stop-motion and creepy along the lines of Coraline, or maybe something Guillermo Del Toro could do (I can see the dreaminess and un-reality of Pan’s Labyrinth working with something like this). The imagery surrounding each of the Marys is fantastic—Bloody Mary constantly stuck in a mirror, Mistress Mary with her creeping vines, Mark Mack continually at work on her coffin, Resurrection Mary always waiting on a lonely highway, and then all of them together in all of their creepy glory in a decaying mansion feeding on screams—it’s dying for a beautiful translation onto the big screen. To bring all of them together was such a unique idea, and I’m glad Kiste built a world for them to inhabit and for me to keep wondering about.
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