Reviewed by A.E. Santana
February is Women in Horror Month, celebrating women in a variety of creative fields that contribute to all things scary. Kate Maruyama’s recently released horror novella, Family Solstice, is a fantastically terrifying read for anyone not only interested in reading more horror written by women but also stories concerning the evils of tradition, heritage, and avarice.
During the warmer seasons, the Massey home is a place of friendship, safety, love, and family. However, come winter, the house is closed to visitors, and the Masseys take turns battling an entity that resides in their basement. Yet that same entity also gives the home its beloved splendor during the rest of the year. This winter solstice, the youngest, Shea, will take her first turn to defend the home she loves. But what will she do when she learns of the family’s dark legacy and the sacrifices made for her family’s comfort?
Family Solstice is an imaginative and horrific look at how people are tempted and lulled into evil for the sake of inheritance and tradition. Maruyama similarly lulls the reader into initially loving the house by introducing it through the filter of Shea’s love and admiration. But unease mounts with each page as Maruyama masterfully drips in information that delicately unravels the façade of safety and warmth. The story is steadily paced, closely following Shea as she waits for her turn to fight and finally know what her family has been hiding. The anticipation and apprehension that Maruyama brews are delicious, keeping readers glued to the page.
As Shea learns the cost to keep her home a pleasant sanctuary and stronghold, the reader witnesses how cruelty and selfishness are packaged and fed to the younger generation to protect the status quo. Maruyama uses a deft and careful hand to blend the supernatural and reality together, illustrating an evil that is as real to some as it is seemingly impossible to others who would rather turn a blind eye. “Sins of the father” is an understatement; the novella reaches deep into the dirt and sickness of America’s history and present, uncovering pockets of where this sickness ferments.
For readers interested in horror as social commentary, and themes of hatred and greed as a cultural inheritance, Family Solstice is a captivating and gruesome read. Maruyama is unafraid to tackle difficult themes that many would like to stay covered up, creating a novella that is as disturbing and grim as it is thought provoking.
A.E. Santana’s works can be found in Latinx Screams, Demonic Carnival III, and other horror anthologies. She is the true horror editor for Kelp Journal and co-editor for The Coachella Review’s monthly column, Voice to Books. She is also a member of the Horror Writers Association. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of California, Riverside's low-residency program. Her perfect day consists of a cup of black tea and her cat, Flynn Kermit. www.aesantana.com @foxflur