"This is the horror of living within a body," says author Elle Nash while discussing her new novel, Deliver Me, published this October. A blurb on the book's cover says, "Deliver Me is body horror at its most shocking and unforgettable. "Nash clarifies over Zoom from her home office in Scotland, "I would classify it almost as a body horror even though it's not explicitly Cronenberg-esque or anything like that."
Deliver Me is Nash's third novel, but it is her first full-length foray into the world of horror, which she holds very dear. Her past works have not shied away from harsh content, but Deliver Me is very different. "I knew when I was writing it that this is more explicitly violent than anything I've done before, and it was exciting. Sometimes there's a part of me that thinks I should just be pivoting towards horror, like maybe this is the right thing for me to do."
Deliver Me tells the story of Dee-Dee, a young woman living in a crummy apartment in Missouri with her long-term boyfriend, 'Daddy.' Dee-Dee works the pneumatic scissors in a facility that processes factory-farmed poultry for mass distribution. The trauma of her Pentecostal upbringing still has its claws sunk deep in her shoulders. Dee-Dee believes a baby will complete her life, but a string of miscarriages has kept her from her fate. But when Sloane, an estranged friend from her past, moves into the apartment upstairs, and Dee-Dee finds herself pregnant again, she becomes determined to carry this pregnancy to term—nothing will stand in her way.
"I love horror as a genre. I watch so many horror movies that I don't even know the names of them, just so many, and I'll conceptualize horror plots in my head; a lot of thoughts and opinions and art criticism ideas about horror films and books and how we experience and express violence through fiction. All these things. So, as I was writing this—even though I don't know how to write a horror novel—I explicitly wanted to explore the psychology of killing specifically and the underpinnings of how people come to do particularly violent behaviors. I'm fascinated with it in all types of cases, but with this particular story… it was just what I wanted to explore in the moment, so it felt both natural and also exciting," shared Nash.
The story holds nothing back, "I felt like I got to be kind of unrestrained in it. My agent was saying I should turn it up to eleven. I also worked with an editor who really helped me understand some fundamentals of fiction that I didn't know. He said I should make the ending even more unhinged if I can, so I took both of those pieces of advice and thought, alright, how much can I fit into this book."
Having read the book, I must say that I vehemently disagree with Nash's claim that she doesn't know how to write a horror novel. Deliver Me is proof positive that she has succeeded tremendously in doing just that.
As the novel progresses and more of Dee-Dee's past is revealed, the content becomes markedly harsher. Kirkus Reviews calls Deliver Me "at times relentlessly cruel." This is certainly not a point I will argue against. If you have a weak stomach or difficulty reading about violence against animals, then I implore you to skip this book. The savagery hiding in this novel is sparse but stomach-churning—though none of it is unnecessary. Every terrible implication—because Nash knows that leaving the goriest bits to fill in with your own mind makes them even worse—is entirely necessary to understand why Dee-Dee does what she does.
Very carefully crafted and terrifyingly grounded in the broken mind of its narrator, Deliver Me is a haunting slow-burn to genuine shock and awe. What makes it so haunting isn't the increasing dread but the loneliness, the sincere reflections of maternal love, and the elegant and sympathetic voice Nash naturally crafts.
Of that sympathy, Nash says: "My intended purpose was to bring people into this woman's experiences and have them feel attached to her as a person because she's complex and she's suffering, and everybody suffers. She has a hard time and doesn't make decisions that work out in her favor. She doesn't always know what she's driven by, but she knows what she wants and why it's painful not to have what she wants.
"I wanted them to feel attached and then as complicatedly distraught by her decision at the end as any other person would feel about a friend. Like everybody has this capacity to maybe do horrible things, and I wanted people to see the nuance and complexity in that." She goes on to talk a bit about her research process: "A lot of it was trying to understand what leads someone to make those choices. I did a lot of research on narcissistic behavior and narcissistic abuse and how people will test boundaries first before breaking them further.
"Creepily enough, when I was living in Arkansas— it was a small town, so any news is big news—there was a guy near one of the college campuses who had been caught going into this girl's room and standing there and watching her sleep. It's one of those things where people will say, 'what the fuck, that's odd,' well yeah, because sometimes people like that are seeing how far they can go before getting caught. There was one case I remember watching on YouTube about a guy who had murdered this girl he had been stalking. They go through the details of these stages, and it's all these slow, boundary-testing steps, learning those red flags—the things people engage in before going further. "
People tend to be quite fond of claiming, "This isn't horror!" when an anticipated film or book doesn't fit into the cookie cutter the audience has created. But this has always been a malleable space to experiment in.
"The thing I love about horror as a genre, especially in film, is it feels like the only place where people are taking risks and experimenting, trying new things that nobody has tried before, that no other genre of film ever does. Found Footage was not a thing, then someone experimented with it, and now it's its own specific niche, and because tech keeps evolving, people are still persistently experimenting, even within the genre itself. It's just something I love about horror overall. It's just respectful and nice."
Reading Deliver Me is like reading about people you know. For better or worse, you will recognize the characters in this book and connect them to people in your own lives—maybe even yourself—and you'll wonder what you would do in this situation; what would you do to keep control of a life that you felt spinning into chaos, fate slipping through your fingers while you watch, helpless.
Nash adds, "We don't always need poltergeists or demons. Sometimes being a human is scary enough." I agree, and I have a feeling you do as well.