CASTLES: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors by Benjamin X. Wretlind
Review by Dan Wright
If I’m being honest, I’ve always been interested in stories from the villains point of view. I’ve always been interested in how they think and the motivations for what they do. And Maggie, the protagonist of Castles, is in my eyes a villain. That’s not to say that I don’t sympathise with her actions, given that she comes from a very abusive childhood, nor do I disagree that the people she takes revenge against have it coming. But I cannot condone her actions and that makes her a villain in my eyes. However, that isn’t to say I didn’t find her an interesting, yet disturbed character.
Set in a very bleak desert, Castles is told from the perspective of Maggie, from a young girl terrified of storms, to an empowered adult. Living with her abusive mother, and some equally abusive partners, Maggie’s life takes a turn when she and her friends discover a disused bus that soon becomes her shelter. From then on, guided by the spirit of her dead Grandma and the “Dust Eels”, she learns to see the storms in a different way and begins her journey to build her castle. What is her castle, you might add? You’ll just have to read it to find out. Let’s just say you’ll never look at tongues in the same way again! In many ways, it’s not a “Coming of Age” story so much a “Loss of Innocence”.
Castles is neither a supernatural horror, nor a psychological one, but it mixes both in such a way that it becomes both. Are the Dust Eels really a kind of supernatural force, or are they just products of Maggie’s mind? Either way, each chapter details Maggie through her life and we slowly see her sanity drift away, bit by bit. The world of Castles is uninviting, hostile and has a real sense of isolation to it. We are never free of the horror, there is no escape from it. This makes Castle a very disturbing read.
Castles is by no means a feminist story (if it was then I think it gives the wrong impression), but it certainly can be considered a cautionary tale for any abusive spouses/partners out there. At the end of the day you’ll have to make up your own mind whether Maggie is a villain or a victim – but because the book is told entirely from her point of view, you are forced to see what she sees and what she thinks, almost like she wants you to understand her actions. This is especially true of the last line of the book. In conclusion, Castles is a very chilling and dark tale that will leave a lasting impression on you long after you put the book down.
So, to “clean up my mess”, I’m going to give Castles a VERY high 4/5.