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Writing Sample

At about this point in mid-March, anyone who volunteered to be one of Mary's proofreaders should have received a typed version of her story in their inbox, or a printout in their campus mailbox. The title is Victoria.

It's not an epic; it's very definitely novel-length, but we're not talking David Foster Wallace here. There are several narratives couched in layers. First, this has ostensibly all been translated from German by the author herself, even though the reader would know Mary does not speak it. In any case, the "translated" account is of an anonymous hiker in the Alps who loses her way trying to get down a peak during a summer thunderstorm but manages to find an abandoned, somewhat inexplicable cabin, where she takes shelter. There is no electricity, though there obviously used to be, so she uses a flashlight to find her way around and keep the main room lit. While waiting for the storm to pass, she finds a folder full of documentation on a supposed scientific experiment. The scientist, a Victoria Karlsteen, has apparently written most of it in a form closer to a diary than real publishable data, especially since many specific details of her methodology have been left out.

What can be gleaned is first that she has created something she considers a monster; later on, that as a brilliant biologist, she has perfected human cloning; eventually, that she had cloned
herself and carried the clone to term as though it were a normal pregnancy. This is hardly the twist, however. The hiker reads on through the documentation to discover that Dr. Karlsteen attempted to raise the child as her own, only to experience growing horror at seeing a visual replication of her younger self, accompanied by a largely similar personality. The older that her daughter grew, the more Karlsteen stopped seeing her as human and started thinking of her as an animal, then a freak, then an abomination. The descriptions given of the young girl certainly suggest that something was not quite right with her— perhaps in the mode of The Ring, only it is hard to say whether this was true or merely her mother's paranoid impression. After her daughter had experienced puberty for several years, Karlsteen attempted to kill her, then relented but abandoned her. The narrative of the experiment continues after this point, but most of it is consumed by simultaneous guilt at the abandonment and terror at the girl's return. In the meantime, it also appears that Karlsteen must have ultimately run into her daughter again because she has recovered the girl's own diary from her time living on her own, with facsimile pages included in the documentation.

But as the experiment's narrative and the girl's diary continue in tandem, it becomes disturbingly hard to separate not only what is fact from what is fiction, but who is telling what. By the end of these interlaced stories, there are still few indications as to how the diary was recovered. In fact, everything cuts off altogether, with Karlsteen— now obviously mentally unhinged— expecting her daughter, always referred to as "it," to visit her in this very cabin. Perhaps Karlsteen wrote the diary and imagined it was her daughter's. Perhaps the daughter wrote everything. Perhaps someone else concocted this as a joke, a hoax. Regardless, the pervasive psychological tension and mindfuckery, coupled with the present-day isolation in the cabin during the storm, lead to the hiker-reader putting the documentation down, panicked. She herself does not know what to believe. When the storm ends and day dawns, she leaves the cabin, only to be consumed by her own paranoia and fear of the documentation's veracity. The novel concludes when the hiker, safe in her own home, notices she's begun menstruating for the month and finds herself screaming at the sight, in uncontrollable fear.