I’m a little late on my first post for Women in Horror Month, but this was dozy to start with! THE COUVADE, by Joanna Koch, is a hauntingly gruesome struggle between Martin and his past, while he protects with jealous brutality, his partner Jerome. When the pair wander into a trap, Martin will have to decide if he is willing to resurrect the aggression he buried a long time ago.
Beginning with the typical trope of a haunted mansion, owned by a relatively unpleasant relative, which seems to hold much more than it seems, Koch lulls us into thinking this is any old story. As the title denotes, it is anything but. I have to admit, I had to look up the title and I will define it here to save anyone the trouble:
Couvade – Noun – the custom in some cultures in which a man takes to his bed and goes through certain rituals when his child is being born, as though he were physically affected by the birth.
Now, if that perks your interest, believe me, this is one of those stories that really binds the themes together for a thrilling ride. I don’t wish to say more about the plotline, lest I spoil it for the reader, but I will say you will need to stick with Koch until the bitter end. Themes of family, legacy, and history are enmeshed in the narrative and I am eagerly awaiting when I can read this for a second time to pick up on all the subtle flavors that they leave for us throughout.
Martin and Jerome are delightful characters, who bounce off one another, thanks to Koch’s well-rounded prose, but they also take on a life of their own in this brief story. The struggles of Martin are dealt with more, because this is the center of the conflict after all, though this sacrifices Jerome’s agency as the story progresses. I will say that the ending has a classic, mythological bent to it, still left me amiss, since the story begins so piercingly intimate, but as the story goes on and Martin changes, literally, the narrative takes a step back and the reader is left viewing it from a distance rather than in the thick of it.
All of this aside, Koch has achieved a brilliant new mythos on one of the oldest creatures in horror literature. They subvert it ingeniously and leaves us wanting more.