Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

Barbara Comyns, intro. by Brian Evenson, Dorothy Project (SPD, dist.), $16 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-0-9844693-1-4
Originally published in 1954 and largely overlooked in its time, Comyns's dark novel begins in the midst of a devastating flood in a small English village. As the "ducks [swim] through the drawing-room windows" the Willoweed family surveys the damage. "Grandmother Willoweed" ("a dreadful old black bird, enormous and horrifying, all weighed down by jet and black plumes") shares the estate with her preacher son Ebin, recently made a widower, his three motherless children and their servants, a handyman called Old Ives, and two domestics. Shortly after the flood, several villagers become afflicted with a mysterious illness, causing some to commit suicide. When the pitiful Ebin loses one of his children to the sickness as well, he becomes determined to sever ties with his family's insufferable matriarch and, he hopes, improve his life. Evenson notes in his introduction that Comyns's "third person narration is quite democratic in terms of who it chooses to attend to" and indeed she shifts perspectives from the Willoweeds to various doomed members of the community with the ease and dexterity of a natural storyteller. Her dark, nightmare-inducing imagery makes for an unforgettable read, then and now. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 01/10/2011
Release date: 11/01/2010
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