The more horror I read, the more I get to ruminate on what it is that scares us. Sometimes it is the obvious things like spiders, death, or heights. However, some of the things that cause unease in us are not as obvious. Deformities, for example, seem to strike fear into us whether we recognize it as such. Perhaps it is a fear that such a thing will happen to us. Perhaps the ways we characterize monsters as grotesque leads us to apply that characterization to people who look different simply as a reflex. Whatever the reason, body horror like that in David Cronenberg’s movies puts many people off.
Karin Lowachee explores the nature of deformity and humanity in “The Summer Mask”. David, an artist, is commissioned to make a mask for Matthew whose face has been irrevocably altered by war to the point of unrecognizable damage. He wears a crude leather mask during most of the year, but it is during the summer that he is able to walk freely to feel the sun though he cannot see. Before the war, he was classically handsome and the artist seeks to create a mask which recaptures this outside reflection of inner beauty.
During this process, a relationship is formed between the two which (on the artist’s side) was certainly romantic in nature. The artist ruminates on ugliness and beauty and how one must justify its existence but not the other. His love for his subject leads him to give a sacrifice to his artistic work beyond what he is called upon to do. This short story is powerful as it examines love and beauty and the projections we place upon others.