Today we’re excited to be sharing nine works that inspired Paola Ferrante in writing Her Body Among Animals!
Her Body Among Animals was born out of a mash-up of pop culture and literary influences. Horror and sci-fi movies and series, fairy tales and fabulist writing have all left their marks on this collection. I consider these works the top inspirations/companion pieces to the stories of Her Body Among Animals, in no particular order of importance.
The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent (2014)
If I could describe this movie in one sentence, it would be “motherhood is a horror show,” a line which, when I was researching poltergeists to write about postpartum anxiety for “Everyday Horror Show,” was never far from my mind. The Babadook features a mother, trapped in her house with her son and a monster born out of a mysterious storybook with which her incredibly difficult child is obsessed. Oddly enough for a horror movie, it gave me hope. The Babadook ends with the monster being relegated to the basement, rather than the unconventional mother who dares to express unhappiness with her role ending up there, or in the attic, or any other place in the margins. The ending is what makes this movie for me, and it’s an ending I have tried to emulate in my own stories about motherhood such as “Everyday Horror Show” and “So What If It’s Supposed to Rain?”
Pebble & Dove by Amy Jones (2023)
While this novel is written in the realist tradition (or at least 99% of it is; we do get inside the mind of the endearing manatee Pebble at one point), the way Jones deals with the complexity of mother-daughter relationships spoke to me immediately. In the character of Imogen Starr, who is most definitely a photographer first and a mother a distant second, Jones has created an unflinching and painfully real portrayal of a woman who is terrified motherhood will kill her ability to create. As a mother and artist myself, I was so happy to see this type of motherhood explored in Pebble & Dove, mostly because I feel like any kind of representation of the “bad mom” in media completely ignores this facet. Imogen doesn’t see a way to reconcile the life of the artist with the life of the mother, a dilemma with which Lil in “So What if It’s Supposed to Rain?” and the narrator of “Cobwebs” both struggle.
Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho (2019)
When I first saw Parasite, I remember telling a friend that this was that rare thing; a perfect movie. Having watched it countless times since then, I have figured out that what draws me back to it is how Parasite effectively melds (at least) two genres seamlessly into one movie. The first two thirds of this movie is a dark family comedy about class, but as we go deeper, metaphorically and basement level-wise, the last third of this movie shifts effortlessly to horror. It’s this blending of genres I’ve emulated in Her Body Among Animals; “Finding Houdini” is a revenge story tinged with fairy-tale comeuppance, and “Among Chameleons and Other Shades” is a romantic comedy blended with horror and ghost stories. “Mermaid Girls” is one part classic coming of age, one part fairy tale, and one part cautionary ghost story, while “A Trick of the Dark” is a fairy tale gone bad; it has no happy ending and is infused with terrifying urban legends.
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell (2007)
I had a hard time narrowing down my Karen Russell selection to just one book, because, in my opinion, she might be the best contemporary fabulist short story writer. I am still haunted by stories from this first collection, where girl-wolves lose their wildness and can’t go home again, and haunted goggles show the dead to two brothers mourning their sister. Everything in this book is like looking at light reflected through water; you know the essence of what the thing you are looking at really is, but the shape constantly shifts in surprising ways. Russell was my guide to understanding how to write depression as an albatross, the restrictions placed on women in pleasing men as a mermaid tail, postpartum anxiety and fears of new motherhood in a climate-changed world as a poltergeist.
Stranger Things, Season 1, directed by The Duffer Brother and Shawn Levy (2016)
Stranger Things’ first season stood out to me for the horror mixed with Stand By Me vibes. Having grown up in the 80’s and early 90’s with The Goonies and the It miniseries, I always wondered about the darker dynamic inherent in these male friendship stories, which I explore in “The Silent Grave of Birds.” Season 1 of Stranger Things also introduced the concept of the terrifying mirror universe known as The Upside Down. Both of my stories that feature adolescents as protagonists take this conception of a dark mirror world and question what happens if we decide to live there. “Mermaid Girls” has the stolen magical funhouse mirror from Davy Jones’ Dream Locker, which shows Emma and Dee their darkest deepest desires (usually as iterations of the constellations). And in “The Silent Grave of Birds,” that threatening other world is the grave of dolls, filled with an icky Blob-like goop, a physical representation of the results of toxic masculinity on both the people around the group of boys and the earth itself.
Red X by David Demchuk (2021)
I remember telling a friend who spent his twenties in the Village in Toronto about why he should read Red X. And I made the mistake of mentioning the Bruce McArthur serial killings, which led to an immediate “no thank you.” Despite this initial repulsion, he did end up reading the book, and he said I had actually done the novel a disservice in my initial pitch. It was about the killings, yes, but not in a re-traumatizing way, which was what he’d been used to. The thing Demchuk does so skilfully in Red X is tell a real-life horror story in a way that only speculative fiction can; slant-wise, through fairy-tale and horror tropes, which, in the process, opens a window for people to feel about this incredibly painful story. I learned from this as I wrote the stories in Her Body Among Animals; how do you make a story about the Toronto van killer, depression, postpartum anxiety, or domestic abuse something people actually want to read? My hope is that, by using famous poltergeist hauntings, urban legends about lizard men, dragons, and the literalization of the cliché about having an albatross around your neck, these stories will have the same effect as Red X, encouraging readers to engage with difficult truths.
Cockroach by Rawi Hage (2008)
In the first pages of this book, the anti-hero hits on his therapist, confesses he wants to possess and seduce all females of the species, alludes to a sexual encounter with his sister and, in short, is a complete cockroach. My stories “A Trick of the Dark” and “Cobwebs” are inspired by the way this novel manifests unpalatable Kafkaesque characteristics. In “A Trick of the Dark” the partner has his abusive nature come out in reptilian, dragon-like ways. In “Cobwebs,” the married wife who loves making art turns into a spider as she realizes she doesn’t want the suburban home with children life her husband does. She becomes a physical manifestation of what is unsightly to her husband, yet is still beautiful in her own way. In Cockroach, although the anti-hero wrestles with his bug-like “instincts,” sometimes exuding shame, there is also an enjoyment of his degeneracy, which was always something I had trouble relating to, perhaps because women’s “unpalatable” characteristics are often more deeply shamed. This feeling definitely influenced “The Underside of a Wing,” where the graduate student is afraid of others seeing her albatross and recognizing her struggle with depression.
Star Trek: Voyager. Seasons 4-7. Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor (1995-2001)
I resisted watching this series when it was on television, mostly because I thought the character Seven of Nine, who is a part of the Borg collective but becomes unplugged and gradually humanized, was just another example of objectification of women in the media. But as an adult watching Voyager for the first time, I was struck by the earnest desire of Seven of Nine to be seen as her own person, as an individual with her own unique wants and needs. Around the same time, my husband showed me a clip of Samantha the sex doll literally shutting down at a convention because she had been touched too much, and the idea for “When Foxes Die Electric” was born. Star Trek: Voyager also spends a lot of time on the concept of the Borg collective itself. I would say that The Borg Queen, in her uniquely horrifying role as mouthpiece for the living hivemind, is definitely the spiritual successor to The Mother (the repository of everything a good mother should know) in “So What If It’s Supposed to Rain?”
The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente (2021)
When the premise for a story is an outcast adolescent named after a piece of garbage living in a literal crap-shack on the actual Pacific garbage patch, hope is not first thing you think of. But Tetley, who is indeed named after the tea brand, is relentlessly positive about the beauty of her world, and optimistic about her ability to love and have a life in the midst of post-apocalyptic ruin. The hopeful endings of many stories in “Her Body Among Animals,” from Maddy’s realization that she doesn’t need to go to Mars to start a new life once she stops living as a shadow of the woman she is, to Gavin’s acceptance of his culpability in a culture of toxic masculinity, and his desire to make amends by speaking to the police, cleaning up the beach, and saving one very haunted doll, are inspired by Tetley’s resilience in the face of disaster.
Paola Ferrante is a writer living with depression. Her debut poetry collection, What to Wear When Surviving a Lion Attack (2019), was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She has won Grain Magazine’s Short Grain Contest for Poetry, The New Quarterly’s Peter Hinchcliffe Short Fiction Award, Room Magazine’s Fiction Contest, and was longlisted for the 2020 Journey Prize for the story “When Foxes Die Electric.” Her work appears in After Realism: 24 Stories for the 21st Century (2022), Best Canadian Poetry 2021 (2021), North American Review, PRISM International, and elsewhere. She was born, and still resides in, Toronto.