It’s time to return to Portero, Texas, in Slice of Cherry, a companion novel to Reeves’ Bleeding Violet. You don’t have to read one to enjoy the other, although I highly recommend reading both, with a caveat: These books are incredibly, to put it politely, fucked up. That is, in fact, the entire point. They are gory, they are filled with body horror, they are gruesome, and they are unpleasant — which is exactly the kind of thing I love to read, but it is not the sort of thing that everyone else likes reading. I’d also note that Slice of Cherry includes some passing references to animal violence (none of which is actually described, it’s just present in a few throwaway comments). You need to know these things before plunging in — although you might take a guess at them given the flap copy and the fact that there’s blood all over the cover.
Sisters Fancy and Kit Cordelle have spent their whole lives wrapped around each other, in the wake of the arrest and conviction of their serial killer father. Like father, like daughters, as it turns out, because the bloodthirsty duo are obsessed with torturing and murdering people, which is how they end up going on quite the killing spree. But they’re serial killers with a conscience, focused on taking out only the worst members of society and killing for justice, not for fun. Okay, well, a little bit of fun. But mostly justice.
Portero, however, is not like your ordinary town. It’s a strange place where…strange things happen. The city is filled with mysterious doors leading to other worlds through which monsters and peculiar things emerge on a regular basis. You never know what you’ll find walking down the street or when you turn a corner, and even with a squad of supernatural law enforcement to keep things in order, the town is dangerous. You certainly don’t go out after dark — and at every turn, the peculiarities of the town alternately stymie and aid the sisters as they confront monsters, slip away into their literal happy place, and come to terms with their own ancestry.
What I love about these books, aside from how messed up they are, is how gleefully messed up they are. Reeves goes all in, all the way up to the hilt, and she has fun doing it; even as she’s writing about incredibly disturbing and creepy things, there’s something so joyful about it that you sort of get swept up in the fun, as unpleasant as it is to hear something like a pair of serial killing sisters described as ‘fun.’ But it is fun, along with Bleeding Violet — even though the stories actually are underlain by complicated plots with important things going on, it’s clear that Reeves has a zest for this kind of writing and she genuinely enjoys it.
(It’s also another example of how an author is not her characters, unless this is all an elaborate coverup for an impressive serial killing career, in which case, kudos, Ms. Reeves. Kudos.)
The serious bit of this book is about the relationship between the sisters as Kit starts to grow up and Fancy needs to learn how to be independent while also growing up herself. Some sisters play with dolls — they play with dead bodies. And some sisters work out their aggression and their issues with each other in petty squabbles and empty threats — they attack each other’s boyfriends and attempt to plant them six feet under. This is a book about coming of age, fundamentally, in a very bloody world, and about facing up to your fears. Growing up is scaring. Talking is scary. Facing down facts is scary. Stumbling upon unexpected truths is scary.
While this is a book about serial killing and mayhem, that’s not the frightening part. Nor are the dangerous streets of Portero and the monsters that inhabit them. Rather, the frightening part lies under Fancy and Kit’s roof, between their beds on the sleeping porch, in the words that pass between them — and the words that don’t. This is a book about a complicated sibling relationship set in a gleefully blood-splashed landscape, but between the arterial splatter and petty cruelty, this is a story about what it means to grow up, something that’s universal to all of us.
Maybe some of us work out our fears in other ways, but there’s something strangely touching and honest about the way Kit and Fancy process their relationship, and each other. While killers are often painted as cold and unemotional, it’s their very emotions that push them into their vicious and often horrific acts; their messy, cluttered, complicated emotions that make them struggle to articulate themselves and fight to be heard. Slice of Cherry isn’t just a bloody read, it’s also a strangely intensely emotional one that reminds me of the unkind acts all of us are sometimes driven to as we attempt to sort out our relationships with the people around us.
Sure, I don’t start rampantly killing people when I’m upset with someone or trying to deal with a situation that feels bigger than me or impossible to deal with. And I don’t think anyone else should either, because there are more productive and less harmful ways to express our emotions. But getting inside the minds of these characters and feeling their struggle makes for an intense and fantastic read as Reeves balances narratives of sisterhood, maturing, and, of course, wanton mayhem.