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About the Story
Filthy Aunt Mildred tasks the player with securing the financial future of the esteemed Bladesmith family by offering tea to a horrible old woman.
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Filthy Aunt Mildred is a beautiful story. It is beautiful because it possesses an utmost clarity of vision and purpose, and every passage - every word, even - is carefully chosen with respect to that cardinal vision. It is a story which devotes its everything to being as gnarly of a train wreck as it can possibly be, and if the author ever felt tempted to make it anything other than a train wreck, no trace of such wavering can be found in the finished product.
One of my goals when writing reviews for Spring Thing 2022 was to try to discern what each entry is trying to do, and offer constructive criticism as to how it might have been more effective at that. But I fear that part of this review will be very short. I could find no flaws with this story other than an unfortunate tendency to put punctuation outside quotation marks when it belongs inside.
When I read the title of this game I assumed that the word "filthy" was meant in the sense of "sexually offensive". Surely everyone has an elderly relative who delights in making lewd jokes in polite company! But this isn't the case at all, the titular aunt is filthy in the sense of unwashed, as are most of her strange family. This is a somewhat rambling and digressive work that reminded me a little of the early Steve Aylett novel, Bigot Hall. It's written in an autobiographical style peppered with excerpts from newspaper articles, screenplays and letters, and tells the tale of the Bladesmiths, a monied English family living in a large country house. The Bladesmiths are a horrible lot, feared by their neighbours and not averse to murdering each other if it would be to their advantage. There's not much in the way of interactivity, but the surreal humour of the piece kept me clicking through. The authenticity of the English setting is undermined here and there by Americanisms, but they're things you probably wouldn't notice unless you happened to be British. Overall I enjoyed my delve into the strange world of the Bladesmiths, and I look forward to seeing what the author comes up with next.
Filthy Aunt Mildred is a nasty little thing, reveling in the physical and moral grotesqueness of the revolting, infighting family who make up its cast of characters and the baroque, decrepit mansion where it lays its scene – call it Knives Out by way of Gormenghast. Beyond the overall squalor, the narrative is the most drunken, meandering sort of shaggy dog story, overencrusted with the largely-irrelevant biographies of sundry louche and long-since departed aunts and uncles, and it doesn’t so much end as collapse in a heap, the few surviving characters having learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
I worry I am being too positive. Here is the second sentence of the piece:
"The air was sticky and horrible and Old Uncle Thomas who lived in the attic was smearing his faeces on the dining hall window, which meant it was six o’clock, because Old Uncle Thomas always smeared his faeces on the dining hall window at six o’clock.”
This is not the kind of filth I had in mind when I eagerly clicked “begin” on what is sold as a wholesome story about poisoning an awful spinster.
As a right-minded person I can under no circumstances recommend, or even commend in the first place, such a disreputable game. But with that understood: reader, I had fun. Each character is more loathsome than the next – the protagonist, and I use that term loosely, very much included – but who cares when they toss off bon mots like this (from the inevitable iocane-powder-ish scene near the end):
"'One of the cups contains lethal poison.', I explained. 'The other contains the greatest tea you’ve ever had in your life.'
The narrator gets in on the action too, evoking the family’s halcyon, prelapsarian days:
"Money was plentiful, nobody had been murdered yet and the general attitude of the Bladesmith family could be boiled down to a mixture of 'why not?' and 'do you know who I am?'"
Sure, the accumulated vignettes lose some steam and effectiveness as you go on, and there’s the occasional typo. And the only choices are about how deep into this sewer you want to throw yourself. But this is one entertaining cabinet of horrors, and for readers who are able to swallow their revulsion and the potty humor and moral bankruptcy here on display, the sharp writing and darkly-inventive imagination are ample rewards for slumming it – you might just need a cold shower afterwards.
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