A Review of Gina Nutt’s Night Rooms
April 22, 2021 § 1 Comment
By Amie Souza Reilly
I’ve never been to Ithaca, but I know that it is famous for its gorges, that the land in that part of New York was carved out by glaciers and now deep cuts cleave the rock. A gorge is a gash in the earth. “Gorge” is also a verb and it means “to eat a large amount greedily; fill oneself with food.” The gorges of Ithaca roar with falls of water, which is both vital to life and deadly.
In Gina Nutt’s stunning essay collection Night Rooms, she writes this of Ithaca, where she is from, “Bridges sprawling from the gouged earth are famous for epic views, notorious for people who have climbed over and let go.”
Hers is a collection told in fragments and juxtapositions wherein she darts like a minnow between examinations of beauty and horror movies, from final girls to being the final girl. “Events inspiring chainsaw massacres: Summer vacation, a road trip. A cannibal family living in a house of hoarded, dusty objects collected from victims. Almost everyone dies. Someone gets away in the end, but not really because the driver in the flagged-down car is a villain. Or the survivor goes to a hospital and when she stares out the window all she sees is a sunset and a fence, a man in a suit, tie, and white shirt. The man swings a chainsaw at the horizon. The blade splits the sky from the earth.”
So much of what she writes is about splits: trauma and scars, terror and sadness, desire and danger, watching and being watched, “…the difference between something regretted and something unwanted.”
Most often I was struck by the way Nutt writes in and about the split between grief and trauma. Throughout these sections and chapters is the haunt of suicide deaths. Her great uncle, her father-in-law, and the strangers who jump into the cracks of the earth where she lives. In chapter two she quotes from Joy Williams’ essay “Sharks and Suicide”:
Not many of us die from love or terror these days, and there are few thoughts left that touch us with true horror. But there are some, certainly. There’s one. Earth’s nightmare is the sea.
These essays, though, are not only about the division between grief and trauma, but what links the two—fascination and fear. Horror films work as a bridge, a way to find balance from one thought to another, but we know that bridges are also where people sometimes jump. “I am looking for a balance between mourning and moving on. How does it look to not be so enamored with the image of the final girl—the one who survives—that we forget, or disavow, our dead (selves).”
I think about the ways we live with fear and in fear of dying. I am afraid of heights. Though I have never been to Ithaca, I have been to Ausable Chasm, also in New York, a different place where land gaps fill with water. When I was there, each turn of the trail held the promise of plummet, each crest the capacity for death. There is so much possibility for grief at the edge of a cliff.
There is so much possibility for grief in places of danger, and what Nutt writes seems to remind us that danger exists not only in horror movies, but in places of beauty, in places where we should feel safe. Violence can mix with pleasure, can confuse feelings of desire. How thin that gap can be. Gapes in the earth don’t have to be gorges, they can be small. There was a pit behind an apartment she once lived in; Nutt writes about it within a paragraph about a man who gets too close, puts his hands on her while she’s trying to sleep, and though he is the one crossing the line, she is the one who leaves the room. “The pit had a reputation.” It is a scene so familiar it hurts to read it.
When terror is familiar it need not be explicit. When Nutt writes of horror movies, she often leaves out the film’s titles, but we know them, because we’ve been there, seen them. The knowledge of the terror already exists as a memory inside us.
And yet, even though it doesn’t come as a surprise, it stops the heart. A leap. Fragment to fragment, cliff edge to cliff edge, a breath held over the gap.
Amie Souza Reilly is an MFA candidate at Fairfield University and is the Assistant Managing Editor at Brevity Magazine. Her work can be found in trampset, Catapult, SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and son.