December 4, 2014 Maplecroft
Maplecroft is the name of Cherie Priest’s latest book. The title refers to the home of Lizzie Borden after she was acquitted for murder. The book came out a few months ago but the library never ordered it and Barnes and Noble in Springfield didn’t have a copy either. I couldn’t borrow it, so I had to buy it. I ordered it from Amazon.com. It arrived Tuesday and I finished reading it by Wednesday night.
Anyway, Priest kept the basic biography of Lizbeth A Borden and added in the Lovecraftian elements. Lizzie was born in 1860 and died at the age of 66 in 1927 of Pneumonia. In 1892 Lizzie was tried and acquitted of the murders of her father and step-mother. Lizzie had an older sister named Emma Lenora Borden. Lizzie appeared to be an upstanding citizen who loved animals. There was nothing to suggest that she was a psychopath.
Various authors have put forth the theories about why she might have killed her parents. Some thought her father was abusive, while others thought perhaps she’d been caught having a lesbian affair with the maid. There is no proof of either though. All we know for sure is that her parents had been ill. No one knows why. They think perhaps it was food poisoning. (As opposed to someone poisoning them on purpose.) Whatever it was, it didn’t help the already tense household.
In any case, someone delivered something like 18 blows with an ax to her step-mother and 11 blows to her father. Whoever it was, they were full of rage!
Lizzie seemed a bit off. Her stories conflicted. Many thought was guilty. There was no conclusive evidence and so they let her go. It is possible that she was under the influence of morphine or laudanum when it happened. Perhaps she suffered from some undiagnosed mental illness. We may never know.
Lizzie and Emma did move to Maplecroft after the murders. She refused to relocate despite being ostracized by the community. Eventually, Emma moved out after an argument with her sister about a birthday party for actress Nance O’Neil.
What makes Priest’s novel Lovecraftian is the cosmic horror of the unknown. Lovecraft often wrote as if life were a mere tip of the iceberg and that something much more abstract and powerful lay just beneath the surface. He focused on slime rather than blood and gore. His heroes usually were academics or scholars.
So naturally, Priest makes Emma a Marine Biologist and Lizzie a bit of a mad scientist. Lizzie chronicles her encounters with a weird entity. Something used her parent as hosts and transformed them into something grotesque. Some creature or virus from the ocean found its way into a necklace. The mysterious “stones” seem to call people to the ocean and transforms them into a creature with gills. Priest never names the culprit and not much is known about it. It infects and attacks and is a threat. Lizzie’s ax is her weapon of choice against these alien-like menaces. Iron, rust or tetanus weakens them. Lizzie is painted not as a mad woman, but a strong woman with a secret. I kept thinking of the X-Files when I read it—the black oil and aliens.