Burn Our Bodies Down is a 2020 psychological thriller written by Rory Power. The novel tells the story of 17-year-old Margot Nielson, a desperate teenager in search of love and acceptance. Frustrated with her distant mother, Margot seeks out another relative willing to take her in. She runs to her mysterious grandmother in the small town of Phalene, but this reunion quickly sours as the story progresses. Corn’s the one thing keeping these two close on the Nielson farm…closer than normal.
While the theme of generational trauma factors heavily in the story’s suspenseful plot, corn is another key element that plays a role.
***Possible spoilers ahead for those who have not read the book!***
Beyond the Yellow Rows
The story’s fictional rural town of Phalene is one of many in the line of psychological thrillers. When considering terrifying plots like Stephen King’s Children of the Corn—featured in King’s 1978 short story collection Night Shift—the gentleness of the countryside has been reframed into something more sinister. The usual cornfield, once a landmark that passed our vision, took centerstage and became the place of nightmares.
Much of our fear behind corn or corn-adjacent media can be aligned with the development of rural horror. These fictional country towns present a certain cultural hostility toward rural geographies. It encompasses the hidden topophobia that permeates Western culture. Topophobia refers to the experience of finding certain places or landscapes anxiety-inducing.
One could suggest that these countryside settings are perceived as threatening due to their isolation. The isolation alone suggests opposition to modernization, particularly in religious or tradition-based land. To outsiders, the life of a country-dweller may appear backward and possibly cultish.
There’s Something “Earie” About This Corn
Power’s novel dives deep into the reader’s topophobia by taking this golden, edible delight and making it the cause of Margot’s anxiety. Corn is typically used as a device meant to hide the unthinkable. These tall stalks that spanned acres across the countryside were an unforgivable maze on their own. It was where the cult of children in King’s novel dwelt for their sacrifices.
Power takes the elements of weird children and creepy corn and puts her own disturbing twist on the two. From finding a bloody tooth in an ear of corn to discovering the burnt body of a girl who’s her own carbon copy, Margot slowly pieces together the mystery that is her grandmother, Vera.
Body Horror and Plant Modification
Instead of hiding the horror, the corn is the horror itself. In the novel’s most chilling twist, Margot discovers that she and her mother are merely copies of Vera herself. Once the main source of the town’s success, the Nielson farm became desolate. Desperate, Vera produced a chemical meant to boost fertility on the land. However, her own consumption of this genetically modified corn led to the asexual reproduction of Margot’s mother, who later produced Margot in the same manner. Vera’s land starts to produce more of these copies that deteriorate in quality over time.
The novel offers a new meaning to the phrase “family ties” with these literal children of the corn. The idea of creating a human with a plant’s DNA is already unnerving on its own. When this fate befalls an unsuspecting girl (who Margot fancies) in the later parts of the novel, readers may wonder how far the chaos will spread. This fear may even have them inspecting their own food sources. Power starts to touch on the issue of real-life agricultural chemicals and their effects on the environment as well as the people in it.
Perhaps none of what we consume is as normal as we believe it to be.
Corn does its job in creating the haunting environment in Rory Power’s novel. As a symbol for both fertility and family within the story’s themes, it keeps its readers pondering over their own family dynamics. They may also grow a bit more picky with their food.
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