Book Review: Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste

This charming novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste, leaves me with a warm smile. This clever, creepy story has a lot of heart.

The Marys of urban legends and nursery tales form a sort of family that stands together against an approaching darkness that threatens to consume them. 

The main character, Rhea or “Resurrection Mary,” haunts a stretch of highway. She collects the “fear energy” expelled by those she frightens when they offer her a ride and she disappears or transforms into something frightening. This “fear energy” is combined with what her sisters have collected, and the Marys feast in their dawn to dusk spirit home.

Five Marys in one house, each with her own personality, require their own nick names. Five Marys who collect fear energy from the living in her own way. There’s Mistress Mary who’s Quite Contrary whose flowers are deadly. There’s Bloody Mary who appears in a mirror when called upon. There’s sweet “Miss Mary Mack” who apparently is dressed in black with silver buttons down the back because she’s preparing for her eventual funeral. And not to be forgotten is the liquor-loving, horse-skull carrying Mari Lwyd (In Welsh folklore, this hobby horse is brought out to celebrate at Christmas).

Although time works differently in the land of the dead, several of the Marys form friendships with the living. These folks can be counted on to call upon their Marys, because who doesn’t want a little scare now and then? However, when the darkness takes substance, the Marys must unravel the mystery of their origins to save themselves from perpetual, tear-filled sleep.

This story harkens to the Gothic joy of “The Addams Family.”  It channels Tim Burton’s darkly nostalgic sweetness. And yet it is all and beautifully Gwendolyn Kiste.