A reclamation of female rage and a horrifyingly deformed Bildungsroman.
Frances is quiet and reclusive, so much so that her upstairs roommates sometimes forget she exists. Isolated in the basement, and on the brink of graduating from university, Frances herself starts to question the realities of her own existence. She can’t remember there being a lock on the door at the top of the basement stairs—and yet, when she turns the knob, the door won’t open. She can’t tell the difference between her childhood memories, which bloom like flowers in the dark basement, and her dreams. Worse still, she can’t ignore the very real tapping sound now coming—insistently, violently—threatening to break through her bedroom wall.
With the thematic considerations of Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson’s work, and in the style of Herta Müller and Daisy Johnson, Tear is both a horrifyingly deformed Bildungsroman and a bristling reclamation of female rage. Blurring the real and the imagined, this lyric debut novel unflinchingly engages with contemporary feminist issues and explores the detrimental effects of false narratives, gaslighting, and manipulation on young women.
Erica McKeen was born in London, Ontario. She studied at Western University, and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, longlisted for the Guernica Prize, and shortlisted for The Malahat Review Open Season Awards. Her stories have been published in PRISM international, filling Station, The Dalhousie Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Tear is her first novel.
“Tear is a melodious novel reckoning with adolescence, the complexities of home and the body. Mckeen’s protagonist, Frances James, is both bewildering and brilliant as she is introspective, navigating her isolated life in London, Ontario. She is a character whose pain and memory works to unearth a turbulent hunger for the past parts of herself, a hunger that will not subside. It is a hunger readers will begin to feel, too, as they immerse themselves in this lucious and monstrously deep work of horror.”—Mallory Tater, author of This Will Be Good and The Birth Yard
“An unnerving study of isolation and alienation, Tear pulls at the threads of a fraying border between the real and the monstrous uncanny. McKeen’s prose is taut and evocative; the novel simmers with repressed rage and then confronts us with its thrilling and terrifying transmutation. A fearless and unforgettable debut.”—Aimee Wall, author of We, Jane
“Dark and unsettling, Tear gives us a portrait of sensitive, artistic Frances and her subsequent isolation that turns into a vivid inward journey. This novel is feverish and eerie with much to say about the impact of early memories on our adult lives, as well as on our dreams and psyche. Frances’s internal descent is vivid, captivating, and at times jarring.”—Sophie McCreesh, author of Once More, With Feeling
“Is Frances James sleeping or dead? Is she trapped in one of her grandfather’s macabre stories? Did her childhood best friend imagine her into existence? McKeen’s debut is a story about stories: a scratching sound emanates from the walls, doors are suddenly and unexpectedly locked, a tree grows around a baby rabbit’s skull, and a young woman wiggles her toes to remind herself that she is real. Tear is a startling novel about monstrosity, femininity, and embodiment that leaves us with the impression that the most uncanny spaces—and the ones we should be most frightened of—are the homes we live within. With Tear, McKeen shows a unique and striking voice that will haunt readers long after they’ve turned the last page.”—Amy LeBlanc, author of I Know Something You Don’t Know and Unlocking
“Tear is at once a moment, a novel, and a life. Drawing on Mary Shelley and creating something all her own, Erica McKeen writes with urgency and mastery. The elliptical movement of time draws the story in and out like a breath. Memory, experience, and imagination collapse into a dizzying narrative of grief, isolation, and illness, spanning years of a young student’s life, reaching to the depths of her inner turmoil, and the depths of her basement apartment. In prose rich with texture, Tear throbs on the page, holds one in its grip until it’s finished. McKeen writes like she can’t help it.”—Fawn Parker, author of What We Both Know
“Clarice Lispector meets Daphne du Maurier in Erica McKeen’s beautiful, surreal debut. One of the novel’s brilliant inventions is a dire space, just off to one side of consciousness, where bodies and minds dissolve and gather new form, where loneliness is so real it comes alive. With animistic, lugubrious prose, McKeen pulls the reader into the visionary emptiness of Frances James’s alienation, toward a magnificent, exhilarating study of reality and self. Like a ghost haunting her own life, Frances shocked me with her uncanniness and moved me with her need. Here, distortions are as exquisite as they are grotesque. This is triumphant terror.”—Seyward Goodhand, author of Even That Wildest Hope