Hair Side, Flesh Side
by Helen Marshall
Cover Artist: Erik Mohr
Review by Ellen Russell
ChiZine Publications Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781927469248
Date: 20 November 2012 List Price $16.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Helen Marshall's Hair Side, Flesh Side is a fascinating collection of weird fiction. It contains 15 short stories, all named after parts of the body. Her links to Toronto are evident, with several of the stories being set there. The stories range from a tale in which children are given relics of saints for their 7th birthday to a tale of a woman who discovers a lost Jane Austen manuscript written on the inside of her skin.
The story that I found the most compelling is the one that references the titular hair side and flesh side of the skin. It is called "Skin: A Texture Like Velvet" and is an epistolary tale that tells the story of a horrific discovery among the manuscripts of the ancient world.
Marshall does a fascinating job of deconstructing the age-old themes relating to love, sex, and death. Her stories of love encompass family love ("Eyelid: Blessed", "Hand: No Ghosts in London"), romantic love ("Teeth: The Old and the New", "Heart: Pieces of Broken Things"), and love of a people ("Stomach: The Mouth, Open"). She also includes a fresh re-telling of the myth of Cassandra, who could predict the future -- including when and how people would die -- mixed with the idea of dissociative personality disorder.
Marshall's stories also include much about the discomfort and sacrifice in the creation of something eternal -- art and literature. Many of her stories include important literary figures such as Jane Austen and Geoffrey Chaucer.
All in all, Marshall's collection is an incredible fantastic journey for the erudite reader who is not afraid of a little quirk or horrific twist.