Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power
Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.
But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.
Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?
The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED JULY 7TH, 2020
Rory Power has done it again.
It’s not a shock to me that I love Rory Power’s sophomore novel. Wilder Girls was an unexpected hit for me, given my typical aversion to horror, and in spite of its shortcomings. Burn Our Bodies Down, however, is on another level entirely for me. In some ways, I’m still processing the magnitude of it, the ins and outs and complicated corners. Could I have predicted where it would go? Maybe. But did I?
Absolutely not, to my great delight. I turned page after page, hungry for more and terrified to understand why. Why the corn? Why the Nielsens? And why all of this in Phalene, where Margot’s mother fears to return?
Focusing on Margot Nielsen, who has only ever known the same life with her mother, Burn Our Bodies Down gives her an escape. When she finds a link to her mother’s past, for the family she so desperately wants, the family her mother desperately hides, she jumps at the chance to run towards it.
And in true Rory Power fashion, she runs toward something more sinister than ever expected.
“Mostly, though, you learn how to be loved without any proof. Seventeen years and I’m still getting that part wrong.”
There’s two features that shine above all in Burn Our Bodies Down. The first is the atmosphere. From the opening pages, you can practically feel the oppressive heat, the swelter of summer at its humid peak. Everything in Margot’s life is sluggish and scorched under direct sun, without ever saying so in a direct way. When this couples with the Midwestern gothic “there’s something wrong in the corn” feeling introduced in Phalene, the effect only intensifies. You know something isn’t right, but naming it? There’s a haze in the way. All you can do is insist that you know, over and over and over.
Truthfully, I can’t get over how well crafted the atmosphere is. I really can’t. Especially in horror, where atmosphere has a life of its own? This truly is a standout summer read, for the days that burn away under a too bright sun.
The second point of excellence, though, is the characters. The Nielsens in particular are a messy lot, always entering and breaking free of toxic relationships with one another. They’re not healthy by any means, and their secrets run deep.
Normally, I hate miscommunication and outright lies as a plot device. This time, though, it weaves its way almost seamlessly, because you know they’re lies and deflections from the start, and they intertwine deeply with the Nielsens themselves. It builds on the sense that something is wrong, even if you can’t offer anything more specific than that, and it steadily leads you further and further into Margot’s lonely, desperate corner.
Essentially, Burn Our Bodies Down knocks it out of the park in crafting characters who are both fascinating and complex while also being terrible people. It’s not necessarily an easy feat, either, and I’m quite pleased with how Rory Power pulls it off!
But that’s not all that Burn Our Bodies Down does well.
A round of applause, please, for the treatment of emotional abuse. Margot suffers so much at the metaphorical hands of people who are supposed to love her, and so badly craves to be loved. At points, she even rationalizes basic acts of love and care offered to her by assuming her earlier actions mean she earned that one show of love.
And yet! And yet! You know it’s wrong and cruel from the start, and in a way that’s as messy as it is necessary and grotesque overall, Margot learns that too. That she hasn’t imagined her suffering, that she doesn’t deserve love only when she’s fallen in line and backed down. She owes it to herself and no one else to stand up for herself, and I love her for it.
Additionally, and on a lighter note, I found it really refreshing to have a queer main character who doesn’t have a romantic arc. Part of it is the Romance Grinch in me who’s also aro and just really tired of romance in general. But a greater part of it is the relief in me at seeing someone exist and be queer without needing to be in an active relationship. People don’t stop being queer if they’re not in the middle of a crush or a relationship or what have you. They’re still queer, 100%. And that was a bright spot, simple as it is, in this otherwise grim and unsettling book. We have a lesbian main character. She does not have a love interest. Life goes on (or doesn’t, as the case may be for some characters).
The corn isn’t so far away from here…
Overall, I’m excited to see Burn Our Bodies Down hitting shelves on July 7th, just around the bend (even if you don’t live near any corn). That leaves just a little time to place a pre-order so you can get in on the eerie summer book too, in case you were thinking of it! Or, if buying it isn’t on the table, see if your local library can get a copy, ebook or otherwise. Don’t you want to dig into the Nielsen family secrets? Don’t you want to know what’s waiting in the corn?
Hopefully, your answer is yes. And the answers you’ll find? We’ll, you’ll just have to pick it up and see for yourself how strange the Nielsens really are. 🌽💛🧡
CW: emotional abuse, gaslighting, body horror, gore (including eye gore), loss of a loved one, smoking, teen pregnancy, violence (including gun violence)