The End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard Horrible Monday Horror Book Reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley & Kat Howard

Malcolm Mays is very close to the end of his rope. After the collapse of his terrible marriage, after a horrific tragedy, he has spent close to his last dollars on a house in rural Ione, Oregon. His first sight of the house confirms that there’s plenty of work to be done, but also that there’s something good to work with. When he opens the front door to his new home for the first time, he finds a huge pile of mail written to the dead owner of the house from an inmate at the federal prison two hundred miles away in Salem. As he explores the house, he receives a letter from the prison himself, delivered, apparently, without the need for a postal worker or any other human agent. The letter is from Dusha Chuchonnyhoof, who tells him that there will be a plate set out for him in the icebox, and flowers beside the bed. It is too long, Dusha says, since he was in that house; he’s been in prison for one hundred and seventeen years for a crime he didn’t commit. His sentence was two lifetimes and a day, and it’s about to come to an end. And then he’ll come home, to the house Malcolm thinks is his own. In the meantime, Dusha says, the house will welcome him.

For the house is magical. When Malcolm goes to the refrigerator, supper is ready for him, complete with wine — cold despite the fact that the electricity hasn’t been hooked up yet. Invisible hands prepare Malcolm’s bed, set out his clothes, draw his bath, wash his dishes, prepare all his meals. And the letters continue to come, instructing Malcolm to prepare things for Dusha’s return. Dusha wants Malcolm to makes things ready for him, to perform a task so horrible that Malcolm quails — except that Dusha promises what he wants most in return.

In The End of the Sentence (2014), Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard have taken the darker aspects of fairy tales and come up with a new tale set in contemporary America, complete with contemporary American problems of automobiles and broken marriages. These horrors that happen every day are combined with the horrors of a supernatural creature that seems to soothe in order to terrify, to provide for all his victim’s needs so long as that victim might be useful. As the story progresses, and as Malcolm toys with the notion of doing as his correspondent asks, the reader’s apprehension mounts.

The authors’ style is simple but beautiful. For example, there’s this passage describing Malcolm’s thought after he burns a patch of mint:

The smell of crushed mint and smoke, and I remembered for an agonizing moment my old life, a glass of ice, bourbon, mint, sugar, my wife smiling at me, her face lit up with love. A sunset. Trees dark and tall. Fireflies starting to blink on and off around the edge of the yard, her hand in mine.

In addition, the epistolary nature of the story allows the authors to reveal much at the same time they conceal from Malcolm — and the reader — precisely what’s going to happen. As we grow to like and sympathize with Malcolm, our dread increases. Will he lose his house? What does Dusha mean when he says he’s coming home? It’s a tricky way to build suspense, but Headley and Howard pull it off.

This is a beautiful novella, a modern fairy tale that any reader of the French tale “Beauty and the Beast” will recognize, but so different from that story that it is something entirely new. Subterranean Press continues to do us all a tremendous service by publishing novellas by some of the best talent writing today, as this example shows.

Published in 2014. It begins with a letter from a prisoner… As he attempts to rebuild his life in rural Oregon after a tragic accident, Malcolm Mays finds himself corresponding with Dusha Chuchonnyhoof, a mysterious entity who claims to be the owner of Malcolm’s house, jailed unjustly for 117 years. The prisoner demands that Malcolm perform a gory, bewildering task for him. As the clock ticks toward Dusha’s release, Malcolm must attempt to find out whether he’s assisting a murderer or an innocent. The End of the Sentence combines Kalapuya, Welsh, Scottish and Norse mythology, with a dark imagined history of the hidden corners of the American West. Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard have forged a fairytale of ghosts and guilt, literary horror blended with the visuals of Jean Cocteau, failed executions, shapeshifting goblins, and magical blacksmithery. In Chuchonnyhoof, they’ve created a new kind of Beast, longing, centuries later, for Beauty.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.