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Three years ago, Alice spent one night in an abandoned house with her friends, Ila and Hannah. Since then, Alice’s life has spiraled. She lives a haunted existence, selling videos of herself for money, going to parties she hates, drinking herself to sleep.
Memories of that night torment Alice, but when Ila asks her to return to the House, to go past the KEEP OUT sign and over the sick earth where teenagers dare each other to venture, Alice knows she must go.
Together, Alice and Ila must face the horrors that happened there, must pull themselves apart from the inside out, put their differences aside, and try to rescue Hannah, whom the House has chosen to make its own.
“Memory is a difficult thing to navigate, especially traumatic memory. It splinters. You can cut yourself on the edges of it so easily.” p. 206
Last night I set my alarm for 2 AM to finish reading Tell Me I’m Worthless before the kids woke up. I had time to take a nap for an hour or two before they started their day and their demands of my attention. During that nap, I kept having bad dreams about the end of the world and everything falling apart. This is really the message at the core of Tell Me I’m Worthless. The world is falling apart because evil and hate lives and it will never fully be killed because we will always give it room to breathe and flourish.
The story follows Alice, a transwoman, Ila, her ex-lover and TERF spokesperson, and The House, who is trying to lure them back into it’s clutches. Three years before, Alice, Ila, and their friend Hannah went into this House because they had heard it was haunted. Hannah never came out, and the other two came out scarred (literally and metaphorically) for life. Alice and Ila split up and hate each other after this, taking their lives in separate trajectories. When Ila asks Alice to return to house, they decide to do it together.
This is a very uncomfortable book to read. There is a lot of violence, suicide, sexual assault, and grimy people doing awful things to one another. Alice and Ila are not happy people. We do not really know if they were happy people before they encountered the house, but what we get are two people who cannot outrun their trauma. I do not want to compare books, but the last time I was this uncomfortable reading a novel it was The Sluts by Dennis Cooper. There is something unsettling about every character in this book, and they are not exactly people I would want to spend time with.
I like that Alison Rumfitt uses so different perspectives and timelines. She even breaks the fourth wall a few times before turning this novel and this evil house into a complete metaphor for society. Tell Me I’m Worthless uses a haunted house to tell a horror story but the bones of this story, the true nightmare at the core, is society and the way that we treat one another. Any time the mirror is reflected on us, the conversation is never easy.
I love this book because it really is unsettling. Even though it is a horror novel, it is also has deeper meaning. The way that it is structured with chapters that do not line up, with sentences that are short and sharp, with narrators that are as unreliable as their memory, all it makes for a novel that I cannot stop thinking about. This is one of those books that make you mull over the meaning long after, and even though it is uncomfortable, this is one of those books that you sometimes need to read.