Reviews > Published on October 11th, 2022

"Mothwoman" by Nicole Cushing

Nicole Cushing knows how to melt your brain. 

She does so through her phantasmagorical and absolutely bonkers scenarios, her astute observations on the state of the world, and the sheer gorgeousness of her prose. 

She knows how to make you laugh.

There are chuckles and guffaws alike in Cushing’s work, but more often than not, the things she puts down on the page elicit awkward, cough-like sounds that technically count as laughter, because you know, deep down in your soul, that you shouldn’t be laughing, and that if there is a Hell, you’re definitely going there. 

She also knows how to make you grimace. At times she even knows how to make you gag.

Examples of Cushing’s macabre, grotesque, and downright sickening imagination are perhaps best left for new readers to discover on their own, but if you know, you know.

All this and more has been true since Cushing’s debut novel, the Bram Stoker Award-winning Mr. Suicide, one of the grimmest and (there’s really no other way to put it) most fucked up things to ever appear in print. And these qualities remain beautifully intact in her newest book, Mothwoman, which begins in the same manifesto-infested vein as her previous work, A Sick Gray Laugh, then makes a sharp left turn into a truly head-scrambling, hilarious, and disturbing plot. 

Like much of Cushing’s output, it’s really best to know as little about the narrative as possible and dive in headfirst at the shallow end, but the brief and cryptic blurb from the book’s publisher (Word Horde) gives readers a rough outline of what they’re getting into:

[It’s] a novel about family, grief, aliens, mental illness, trauma, sexism, the Mothman legend, Covid, and the encroachment of unreality into American political life. 

Nothing more need be said where the plot is concerned. As for Cushing’s writing, Mothwoman represents her most ambitious and spectacular effort yet. Her most impressive feat: expertly blurring the line between reality, fantasy, hallucination, and delusion; delivering a narrator who is unreliable and owns it; and a protagonist, Nancy, who is completely passive, but wholly engaging at the same time. Make no mistake, however — the main character’s passivity isn’t a result of lazy writing. Cushing knows exactly what she is doing, cleverly playing with and at times even openly sneering at the expectation of a character arc, with Nancy stating at one point, “I am a heroine and Joseph Campbell insists I take a journey.”

It becomes clearer and clearer as the story unfolds that Nancy isn’t decisive, and doesn’t care to be. She really only has one goal: to sit back and let life happen to her, rather than actively participate in it. The problem is, however, at some point, Nancy has to make decisions. She’s forced to make choices about her own fate, and — at the risk of giving too much away — Cushing makes it clear that whatever path Nancy decides upon, it will likely lead to ruin. 

But don’t confuse the potentially catastrophic results of Nancy’s apathy as moralizing on Cushing’s part. There is perhaps no moral to this story, other than to pinwheel downward through nightmare after nightmare. Or, more to the point, to revel in that which makes no sense, that which has no grand point. As Nancy herself insists near the end of the novel:

Do not reject the reality of unreality because you see it wrapped in absurdity. Take the time to unwrap the gift, and accept it with a humble heart. 

Mothwoman is indeed a gift of epically weird proportions, not only wrapped in absurdity, but constructed of it, a tapestry woven of pure, unabashed ridiculousness that rivals the greatest surreal works of art. 

Pick it up soon, immerse yourself in it, and let it melt your brain.

Get  Mothwoman at Word Horde or Amazon

About the author

Christopher Shultz writes plays and fiction. His works have appeared at The Inkwell Theatre's Playwrights' Night, and in Pseudopod, Unnerving Magazine, Apex Magazine, freeze frame flash fiction and Grievous Angel, among other places. He has also contributed columns on books and film at LitReactor, The Cinematropolis, and Tor.com. Christopher currently lives in Oklahoma City. More info at christophershultz.com

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