The Southampton Review Recommends “The Monster” by Ali Simpson
So excited for Ali!
Vol. 16, No. 4
Perfect deadpan marks the opening of Ali Simpson’s “The Monster,” an elegant take on the best kind of horror story—one that Shirley Jackson or Neil Gaiman might tackle, one that makes you laugh even as it scares you, that turns the imagined monsters we fear in the dark into the very real monsters that inhabit our own internal darkness. You won’t have heard of Ali Simpson before. “The Monster” is her first published story. After reading it you will only want more.
As well as being the Fiction Editor of TSR: The Southampton Review, I teach in the MFA in Creative Writing & Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton. Ali Simpson came into my class not long ago, hard at work on a novel mired in the importance of its own premise, with characters that couldn’t move because they were weighted down by their own symbolism. But Ali was willing to experiment and was determined to allow her ideas about how otherworldly and worldly schema can collide to be expressed in story. Her work was unpolished, yet always dangerous, even when the storytelling wasn’t successful. And she kept working.
Students who enter the classroom willing to look foolish—willing to fly or falter from week to week—those are the ones who can take both criticism and instruction, the ones who will eventually master voice and pacing and the creation of rich character and narrative tension.
The week Ali submitted “The Monster” to class, it was immediately clear that she had transcended student status—that she’d crossed over to a full understanding of what a story has to have to exist on both the fantastic and the human level. What had happened to Ali? She’d understood the most fundamental fact of story making, one that many people write a lifetime without grasping: that a story has to have a reason for being. And if a story’s why is understood by its author, then its how—the means, the mode, the POV, the structure, the characters—will fall into place.
“The Monster” plays with the conventions of the horror story, and is as much an allegory about a nervous breakdown as it is a metaphorical description of the transition to adulthood, and of the writing process itself. It is dark, and twisted, and unforgettable, and I knew immediately that it belonged in TSR. I’m so delighted to share “The Monster” with you. I’m delighted that I am Ali’s thesis advisor, and I’m also delighted because Ali is a young writer at the beginning of what promises to be a marvelous career.
Fiction Editor, The Southampton Review
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By Ali Simpson
Recommended by The Southampton Review
Laura was becoming unsure about what to do with the monster in her closet. He shouldn’t have been there—she wasn’t a little girl; she was a grown woman with a full-time job and a roof over her head that she paid for herself with her full-time job. She had food in the fridge, dishes in the drying rack and dress pants pressed. Who had time or inclination to deal with monsters when there was work to be done, friends to have drinks with and love to pursue? Besides, the world was filled with enough scary stories as it was. Robbers, rapists, famines, and wars. Every day on the way to work, she passed people more unfortunate than she, and she knew if she stopped for a second, she would become a part of them, hungry all the time. She suspected she had a few scary stories lurking inside her and spent the better part of some nights guessing what they might be.
So the monster came at the right time in her life. She had just put her dog to sleep because of his eye tumors. She had also recently kicked out her boyfriend because he thought she was his mother. She told him he was mistaken, that she was not his mother, and then she helped him pack his things, fed him lunch and kissed him good-bye. After Bumblebee went to sleep and the boyfriend was sent on his way, her apartment smelled empty and her sheets were cold. She lay around on the couch when she didn’t have to be at work and kept telling herself not to feel sad—she had a lot going for her.
The loneliness made her sick and pale. Nothing made her feel better and she wondered if the loneliness had been there all along but that she had somehow avoided looking it in the face until now.
The monster appeared on Laura’s worst night. She was counting the dead bugs in the ceiling light when a low snuffling sound came from her closet. She was afraid because she thought it was a mouse, or worse, some city creature toughened by concrete and fed by garbage, the kind that could chew through walls and end up featured in the weird news section of newspapers.
She approached the closet and turned the knob slowly, so she wouldn’t startle whatever was inside. When she opened the door, she found the monster curled up on her shoeboxes amid clothes that had fallen off their hangers. He was about the size of a large raccoon but lithe and hairless with skin the color and texture of old scabs. He had bat-like ears and a beak-like snout from which sharp teeth protruded in cockeyed directions. His eyes were bright and bulbous and his front feet were long and dexterous, tipped with curved claws.
The monster gave a gurgling cheep that seemed to mean hello.