When Darkness Loves Us

By Elizabeth Engstrom
Apex Publications
ISBN: 978-0-9821596-6-8
September, 2009; $14.95

Seeing this reissue of Elizabeth Engstrom’s first book brings me back. I happened across it in the late 1980’s and it made an immediate impact on me. Elizabeth had a strong story in one of Charlie Grant’s anthologies and I had remembered the name and took a chance on this book. It’s remained a favorite of mine since then. Little did I know, it would have an even bigger impact on me later on in my own life. Fast forward about 13 or 14 years and I’m sitting in a writing workshop headed up by Mrs. Engstrom (an excellent and much in demand writing teacher as well) and picking her brain on publishing. I learned a lot from her and she also granted an interview and contributed a brand new story to my fledgling publication, Dark Discoveries. Her name and credibility led to others taking a shot on my new venture and for that I’m ever grateful (and led to other appearances in DD over time). And it all started with this book right here.

But enough of the personal aside! Let’s get on with the book. When Darkness Loves Us is actually two novellas put together. The title story is about a young woman, Sally Ann, who is trapped underground and has to learn to adapt and continue to survive – even in the face of giving birth to a child in the midst of this predicament. The second novella, “Beauty Is…”, tells of a woman named Martha who is born without a nose who is considered to be the town idiot, but is much smarter than people think and quite special. The story alternates between her upbringing and family life, to the current time period and her breaking out of her shell and taking command of her life. The outcome is slightly predictable, but no less devastating.

In a new forward, Engstrom states that she did very little in the way of revision to the stories – other than a couple minor fixes – as it was an early work and she would have ended up rewriting the whole thing. My opinion is that the stories still hold up very well. There are certain traits that remain evident in her writing to this day such as: strong female protagonists and solid secondary characters, quirky premises and good plot lines and conflict resolution. Liz really cares about and loves her characters and it shows through – even in this early work.

The late Theodore Sturgeon (a Science Fiction/Fantasy writer known for his strong sense of love imbued in his work), states in his introduction to the 1st edition (reprinted in this new version): “And now I envy you, and anyone who has not, but who is about to, meet Elizabeth Engstrom. Behind that soft-voiced style is power, is surprise, is – well, that ferocity I mentioned.” If this is your first taste of Elizabeth Engstrom’s writing, I envy you as well.

– Reviewed by James R. Beach


~ by darkdiscoveries on July 6, 2010.

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