Audiobook Review: Bad Dolls by Rachel Harrison
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Penguin Audio (September 6, 2022)
Length: 3 hrs and 56 mins
Narrators: Helen Laser, Suehyla El-Attar Young, Frankie Corzo, Phoebe Strole
Rachel Harrison continues to impress me, and the fact that I enjoyed Bad Dolls so much says a lot! Short fiction isn’t typically my format of choice, but after the great time I had with both the author’s novels The Return and Cackle, I thought it worthwhile to give her horror story collection a try when I was offered an early listening copy from Penguin Audio. And I’m so glad I did.
Reply Hazy, Try Again
This first story follows an indecisive young woman who impulsively buys a Magic 8 ball from a flea market. At first, our protagonist treats the whole thing like a joke, posing random advice-seeking questions to the toy just to see the replies she’ll get. Soon though, the ball appears to take on a mind of its own, one that impossibly seems to know more than it should.
As creepy as this all sounds, the story is actually quite light on horror and more focused on human drama, touching upon subjects like work, life, and relationships. The idea behind it is very unique though, and I liked that there was a strong paranormal or uncanny element.
This was perhaps my favorite story of the collection. “If I’d been told in advance about the blood sacrifice, I would have made up an excuse not to attend the bachelorette party.” Best first line ever! Our main character Natalie is invited to the bachelorette party of her childhood best friend, Haley. The two women have always been close, but ever since Haley moved away for college and made new friends, Natalie has started worrying about them drifting apart. So when one of Haley’s sorority sisters rents a beautiful rustic cottage for the bachelorette weekend, Natalie makes a valiant effort to participate in all the activities and pretend she is enjoying herself for Haley’s sake, even though she feels like an outsider the entire time. Still, even best friends have their limits, and there are definitely lines that shouldn’t be crossed.
Many of Rachel Harrison’s stories are centered on female friendships, and this tale was no exception, looking at the evolution of relationships and how people’s lives change over time. Lots of complex feelings explored in this one too, especially the main character’s insecurities and personal fears. Plenty of humor was involved, and the relatability of Natalie’s voice also made this story very easy to get into, helped by the amazing performance of the audiobook narrator.
A woman and her friend decide to try out a trendy new app that claims to be able to help them with their dieting goals, except our main character is someone who has recently recovered from an eating disorder. Supposedly, this app works by summoning an adorable little goblin-like mascot to give you encouragement anytime you need a bit of motivation or moral support. Our protagonist thinks there must be something seriously wrong with her app though, since her goblin turns out to be a nasty piece of work.
I struggled a bit with this one, trying to wrap my head around the basic concept. In the end, I liked it, but it’s also the perfect example of a short story that could have greatly benefited from being longer, just so the ideas and the world and the characters could have been more fleshed out.
In this story, a woman returns to her hometown following the death of her little sister to be closer to her family. After going through and tidying up the things in the room that she is renting, she finds a mysterious old porcelain doll which no one seems to know to whom it belonged or where it came from.
Out of the offerings in this collection, this tale had the closest feel to a traditional horror story. Dolls have always creeped me out, so this one definitely gave me chills. Like “Goblin”, I think “Bad Dolls” could have been longer, simply because there’s enough content here beyond the horror aspects to warrant a full-length novel, such as the depth of themes involved like family, grief, and sacrifice.
All told though, I highly recommend this collection, whether you’re an existing fan of Rachel Harrison or are completely new to her work. Normally, I wouldn’t suggest starting with an author’s short stories but I’m making an exception with this book because, short as they are, the tales within are a very good reflection of Harrison’s knack for storytelling and her fun twists on horror. Everything she writes is now a must-read for me.