||Oct 2008, Oct 30 2010
Lisa Mannetti, Author
2nd Edition, Published by Shadowfall Publications October 2010
New cover by acclaimed artist, Glenn Chadbourne.
New Introduction by New York Times best-selling author, Heather Graham.
New Afterward by Lisa Mannetti.
Available now in all E book formats.
Available in new trade paperback edtion from Shadowfall Publications, October 30,2010
On his deathbed, Imre, a half-gypsy horse trader, must face the most horrific episode of his life in order to save his wife and daughter from a hideous curse.
Set in 19th century Hungary and Romania, Lisa Mannetti's debut novel garnered a Bram Stoker Award. This new edition from Shadowfall Publications features cover art by Glenn Chadbourne and an introduction by New York Times best-selling author, Heather Graham, as well as a new afterward by Lisa Mannetti.
"Erotic and chilling, Mannetti weaves a spellbinding tale of a Gypsy curse in a world that is both fantastical and utterly real."
--Alexandra Sokoloff, author of BOOK OF SHADOWS
"A keenly conceived and richly executed cornucopia of the blackest magic. Mannetti’s prowess as a writer hauls the reader into a shimmering, phantasmagoric demesne of relentless suspense and high-creep-factor chills, and doesn't let go until the final page. This story is a dark work of art.”
–Edward Lee, author of CITY INFERNAL and BRIDES OF THE IMPALER
"Mannetti's prose has teeth; sharp teeth that grab on and refuse to let go."
--J.A. Konrath, author of ORIGIN and FUZZY NAVEL
My wife sits in the corner of our caravan, because this morning it is her personality which has come to the fore. Her hands are folded quietly in the lap of her skirt. Just above her left hand is a thick purplish scar that circles her wrist like a hideous bracelet. I don't want to think about the scar, about how it is the source of the evil afflicting our lives.
If I raise my head from the sweat-soaked pillow I can see her bare feet splayed against the worn floorboards, but it is her face I find myself staring at: small, kitten-shaped, dominated by her huge dark eyes. She has gypsy eyes. They were very bright when we were both younger; now they are ringed by deep gray shadows like bruises and filled with pain. Meeting mine, they beg: Save Lenore.
My wife is right of course, and she is living evidence of what will happen to Lenore, our daughter, if I don't intervene. But Christ, I think, how can I save her when the foul disease I've taken is ravaging through me like a brushfire? I close my eyes and instantly hear the swish of skirts, so I know she has gotten to her feet, she is moving toward the bed. And now I feel her hand tapping my shoulder urgently.
I open my eyes; her face is full of defiance. Her black brows contract angrily and she points at her wrist. Again.
“Yes,” I say, my voice a ragged whisper, “I know.” I know we will die shut up in this stinking grave of a caravan and Lenore will be possessed by the same hungry spirit that has taken my wife's life, that has killed Joseph and punished me.
Reviewed by Gabrielle Faust for FearZone and The Austin Literary Examiner
Gypsies. The mere word sends shivers down my spine. The image of once brightly painted, now worn and peeling, old-world caravans driven by cunning horse traders and colorfully garbed fortune-tellers is one that inspires an eerie mixture of awe and trepidation. The power surrounding the very legends themselves is an incredible testament to how deeply engrained the superstitions have become within us all over the ages. Despite the legendary myths of their true magical abilities as witches and sorcerers, gypsies have cloaked themselves in an illusion lined with a vagabond patchwork of panhandling and swindling working to befuddle the world beyond their families and make outsiders extremely wary. Naive strangers never know what they might lose in their dealings with a caravan, their personal possessions or something far more valuable. However, one cannot deny the resonance of magic that surrounds gypsies, especially those of the old country. In Lisa Mannetti's debut novel The Gentling Box, she delves deep into the world of the gypsies of 19th century Hungary bringing to harsh, dark reality the brutal existence of one such caravan and the merciless supernatural power they possess.
Suffering the devastating poverty plaguing the lands of Hungary during the 1800's, Imre, a half-gypsy horse trader, along with his wife Mimi and daughter Lenore, have found their family cursed. Imre himself has fallen ill from a fatal disease cast upon him by Mimi's mother, Anyeta, a tyrannical sorceress. After Anyeta's passing, Imre and his family return to the old caravan to allow Mimi to say her goodbyes. The gypsies there are not as welcoming of Imre and Mimi's arrival, however, plagued by layers upon layers of murderous corruption and wicked illusions initiated by Anyeta before her death. When Lenore becomes deathly ill after a certain magical assault, Mimi is driven to assume her mother's power and tricked into claiming the "hand of the dead" by cutting off her own arm to create the needed talisman. But, again, it seems that nothing is as it appears and the caravan revolts against Imre and his family. As Imre becomes increasingly ill, he must return to the darkest ghosts of his past in order to save Lenore and put an end to the black reign of Anyeta's ghost once and for all.
Mannetti's depiction of 19th century Hungarian gypsies is in a word, masterful. One can feel the cold, dank air of the western Carpathians, hear the creaking of the wooden wagons on their tired wheels, smell the acrid twinge of campfire smoke in one's nose. Mannetti paints a dismal and bleak world in which the glamour and glory of a once prideful people has been reduced to a cannibalistic fear that consumes their every waking moment so that they fail even to notice the graying and fraying of the world around them. Indeed, their corrupt magical power is so great that it is rivaled only by their own superstitions and suspicions of one another. It is a sour, bitter anxiety that rises high in the back of the reader's throat as they are drawn into one terrifying scene after another. It is a poetic web of black magic Mannetti weaves as she skillfully crafts characters, which quickly evolve and are instantly identifiable and tangible. Indeed one could easily believe that she had spent time amongst the gypsies of Hungary, or perhaps was one in another lifetime, as her depictions are so believable. The Gentling Box is a brilliantly decadent opium den of mind-bending hallucinations fueled by old-world magic, each page more disturbing and haunting than the previous one. Absolutely stunning! Moving with the frantic speed of a terrified wild horse, this novel will take you on a ride you will not soon forget. If this is Lisa Mannetti's debut, I cannot wait to see what she will produce for us in the future.
A Gene Stewart: A Review of The Gentling Box by Lisa Mannetti
Just finished first novel The Gentling Box by Lisa Manetti and wanted to let you know that I was bowled over.
It's a superb story full of unflinching observation, telling details, and breath-taking turns of events, written beautifully with a masterful control of material, pacing, and story structure.
It is set among the Gypsies in Hungary and Romania at the turn of the last century, a time of change, portent, and dark magic. Imre, a horse trader; his wife Mimi, whom he loves so dearly; their daughter Lenore; his friend Constantine; and others among the nomads have their lives changed irrevocably by the dark magic of Mimi's mother, Anyeta, whose dying wish is to see her daughter one last time. A talisman must also be passed on, a kind of Hand of Glory or Monkey's Paw that carries its own kind of twisted temptation for everyone involved. We see curses, lust for power, corruption, ghosts, possession, self-sacrifice, and redemption portrayed with felicity and conviction. It is a remarkable series of portraits presented in a compelling sequence of well-wrought scenes.
The magic in it is as real as horse sweat and ashes, and the reality described as magical as any wild dream. What an accomplishment, to mix such stuff so well and to tell such a brutal tale so beautifully, with such delicacy of feeling and such empathy. There is real life in it, and the unblinking way Manetti portrays it all is greatly to be admired in an era when so many choose to avert their gazes, or to lie, in order to lessen the sting or to avoid offending prudes. This book tells the blunt truth and therein lies it's great power.
One of the best books I've read in a long time, The Gentling Box is strongly recommended.
That it is Lisa Manetti's first published novel bodes well for her career and for us, her readers. And more good news: she is working on a book about deaths on Mt. Everest. Our wait, to gauge by this work, will be well worthwhile.
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Posted by Gene Stewart at 11:13 AM
The Gentling Box, Review by William D. Gagliani
Accomplished short story writer and Tarot expert Lisa Mannetti has fashioned a debut novel that demands to be read purely because of its striking originality. The fact that its promise is more than fulfilled makes the reading a rewarding and refreshing experience, the kind serious fans of dark fantasy see all too seldom. The fact that its themes might just haunt your sleep—well, that's just gravy. After all, isn't that what we all want to achieve? If it's not disturbing in some way, is it worth reading? Or writing? You'll find The Gentling Box has its share of the disturbing!
Gypsies—the nomadic Romany people—have been reviled traditionally throughout Europe, even while their culture was plundered and their services and labor exploited. Treated with mistrust and often labeled as thieves for the sake of convenience, or occasionally accused of worse (witchcraft and other taboo practices), their supposedly carefree lifestyle has nevertheless garnered much interest. Their colorful horse-drawn caravans have become an image recognized anywhere, and gypsy music has always stirred the heart with its tragic-joyful blend of violin and rhythm. Mannetti's novel is set among these people and their superstitions, many of which intersected those of regular Europeans in the 19th Century. Death was an obsession, of course, and the basis for many a bizarre belief and superstition.
When the novel opens, in the mid-1860s, Imre and his wife Mimi and daughter Lenore are heading back to Romania, where Mimi's mother Anyeta lies dying. Hated among her fellow gypsy troupe, the sorceress Anyeta is a horrific presence even before she appears, grotesque in death and apparently murdered. Too late to make peace with her mother, Mimi is left with the duties of the survivor. But the gypsies, afraid of Anyeta's powers, burn her caravan before Mimi can comply. Though part of the culture, Imre is only half-gypsy and therefore the perfect narrator for this tale of revenge and possession. A horse trader by profession, Imre is a devoted husband and father—but he has dark secrets: for one, he once rebuffed Anyeta when she tried to seduce him in exchange for the financial help he needed. Now, with Anyeta dead, Imre thinks all will be well as soon as he takes his family back home. But Anyeta has many tricks, and Imre many weaknesses.
Imre's tale begins as, close to death, he relates what took place when Anyeta managed to possess her daughter's body and prolong her own cursed life—and her search for a perfect body in which to never grow old. Enchanted to separate from Mimi and take up with the lovely Zahara, a woman he had loved as a youth, Imre is faced with the horrifying task of "gentling" his wife. Having learned horse training from his father, Imre knows—and rejects — the technique of gentling, or training, that is basically an equine version of a lobotomy, for horses thus "gentled" lose both their spirit and their intelligence. Imre is maneuvered by old acquaintances Joseph and Constantin into agreeing to impose this most depraved punishment on his wife, but Imre cannot, for memories of his father haunt his dreams.
Unfortunately, all is not as it seems, and Imre is a pawn in a tragic game that swirls around his head too quickly for him to follow. For Anyeta is anything but helpless, and she is very motivated to lead him astray. Having caused Mimi to claim in bloody self-mutilation the "hand of the dead," a Hand of Glory talisman that bestows magical healing on its owner, Anyeta's real agenda comes to Imre when it is too late to save everyone he loves, and when his own weaknesses have broken him and branded him with despair. Imre is a tragic figure whose love for Mimi and Lenore blind him to what his mother in law has in store, and his inability to complete the evil deed that will free them is the key to his later suffering. Meanwhile, he will watch as his beloved Mimi harbors the deranged Anyeta inside her body, running as a wolf at night and indulging in the most vile, inhuman acts imaginable.
This is but one layer in the richly complex tale of evil from beyond the grave. While Mannetti has managed to portray gypsy life convincingly and with great sympathy, the novel's true heart lies in its universal and yet very personal theme of Choices—those we make, those we neglect, those we refuse, and those which seduce us. This is why the final scenes succeed on so truly heart-rending a level.
The dark themes Lisa Mannetti explores come crawling up your throat when you least expect them, their personal nature much more horrific than world-threatening horror precisely because the cast is small, the focus tight, and the moral quandaries so impossibly torturous. We fall headfirst into a world both abundantly detailed and bleakly hideous for its personal horrors and what man—or woman—may be driven to do for power over others. Imre's story feels stifling, buried under a mantle of sadness that can't be shaken off. It's not surprising that The Gentling Box has garnered a nomination for the Bram Stoker Award—it may be a first novel, but it's one powerful and inventive, timeless treatise on darkness of the soul.
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