Holidays are natural reminders of the past. But there’s no holiday for confronting the past—and our former selves—quite like Halloween. It’s a celebration built around the malleability of identity. We wear, for one wild night, the wigs and feathers and furs of strange creatures, monsters and myths we love to imagine or are afraid of becoming.
For young girls, whose identities are already restricted and policed, Halloween can be a revelation: a chance to become not something else but truly ourselves. We have the power to transform and delight in our bodies. We can also use that power to torment others, to lay blame, to cast out the witch to save our own skins. But the codes and crimes of childhood have an echo. And Halloween is a dark, kaleidoscopic tunnel to the past, through which we can still hear the truth about who we’ve pretended to be, and who we’ve been all along.
Jennifer McMahon’s “Hannah-Beast” understands Halloween. It’s full of the aesthetic pleasures of celebrating the holiday in America: buckets of candy. Pumpkins waiting to be carved (until the last minute), porches strung with lights. Packs of children roaming the streets, some of them far too old to still be trick-or-treating. And everywhere, the whispered warning of the local boogeywoman. Hannah-Beast, whom children still dress up as. Hannah-Beast, as legendary of Bloody Mary. Did she kill people? Was she real?
She was real. McMahon braids together the story of the real Hannah in 1982, and the real, now-grown Amanda—one of three girls who toyed with and bullied Hannah on that night thirty-four years ago––who is now a mother to a girl of her own, in 2016. As we shuttle back and forth between the past and the present, it’s the act of looking back that scares us the most.
– Kate Racculia
Author of Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts