Title: Pretty Marys All In A Row
Author: Gwendolyn Kiste
Page Count: 86 pages
Rating: 4 / ✨✨✨✨
You’ll find her on a lonely highway, hitchhiking at midnight. She calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her by another name: Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to a decrepit mansion on a lane to nowhere, she’s not alone.
In the antique mirror, call her name three times, and Bloody Mary will appear. Outside, wandering through a garden of poisonous flowers is Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary, a nursery rhyme come to gruesome life. Downstairs is another jump-rope rhyme—Mary Mack, forever conscripted to build her own coffin. And brooding in the corner with her horse skull is the restless Mari Lwyd.
They are the Marys, the embodiment of urban legend and what goes bump in the night. Every evening, they gather around the table and share nightmares like fine wine, savoring the flavors of those they’ve terrified.
But other than these brief moments together, the Marys are alone, haunting a solitary gloom that knows them better than they know themselves. That’s because they don’t remember who they were before—or even if there was a before. And worst of all, they don’t know how to escape this fate.
That is, until a moment of rage inspires Rhee to leap from the highway—and into the mirror with Bloody Mary. Suddenly, the Marys are learning how to move between their worlds, all while realizing how much stronger they are together.
But just when freedom is within their reach, something in the gloom fights back—something that isn’t ready to let them go. Now with her sisters in danger of slipping into the darkness, Rhee must unravel the mystery of who the Marys were before they were every child’s nightmare. And she’ll have to do it before what’s in the shadows comes to claim her for its own.
“Our bodies are skilled at make-believe, carrying out the sacraments of lives we lost long ago. It aches inside me how close we are to existing yet how agonizingly far away.”
This was my first book by Gwendolyn Kiste, although I also own AND HER SMILE WILL UNTETHER THE UNIVERSE, which has also been widely recommended by my bookstagram friends. I’m in love with her writing, and with the way she’s been able to create such a unique new world for so many old characters, many of whom I remember from my own childhood.
There are five Marys in the story – Resurrection Mary, Bloody Mary, Mary Mack, Mistress Mary, and Mary Lwyd. They live together in a house that exists somewhere in between worlds (or planes…? It isn’t really explained in detail), and although they’re all dead, they require sustenance in the form of the fear that they get from scaring people. This part felt a little Monsters Inc. to me, which I love, so having a more adultified version of it was lots of fun! Unfortunately, not all of the Marys are as widely feared as the others, and the lack of remembrance of some of these girls is causing them some trouble.
I remember being terrified of the concept of Bloody Mary as a child, and having her written the way she is in this story shows a side to her that I never considered. Mary Mack & Mistress Mary were two that I remembered from nursery rhymes – and didn’t remember being scared of them, although they definitely creep me out a bit more now! I looked up more about Resurrection Mary & Mary Lwyd, and realized I’d heard of both of them – but didn’t remember their names!
Although they share a name, each Mary retains a uniqueness that is completely her own. The story is told from Rhee’s point of view – that is, Resurrection Mary. She wanders a stretch of highway late at night, hitchhiking and terrifying those that are kind enough to pick her up. I liked her character, and her relationship with David – a guy she’d scared when he was a teenager, who has kept coming back to see her despite that they’ll never be able to be together. I normally don’t care for romance bits to be thrown into my horror stories, but this was done really well and I loved the way it ended up for them.
Although this was a really quick read, it managed to pack a lot within its pages. Kiste’s prose is sharp, and the unpredictability of her plot kept me on my toes until the very end. I’m even more excited to read her short story collection now, and I’ll absolutely be picking up THE RUST MAIDENS when it releases next month!