The Quelling

Addie and Dorian have always been together: the two sisters have spent most of their lives in a locked ward after being diagnosed with a rare psychiatric condition and accused of murder as children. Now on the cusp of adulthood, Addie plans to start a new family to replace the one she lost, while Dorian struggles with her own violent tendencies to help raise her sister’s child. But Dr. Lark, the supervisor of their ward, sees these patients as the key to his revolutionary Cure. As his “treatments” become increasingly bizarre, Addie and Dorian are increasingly unsafe, and a ward nurse may be their only lifeline.

Gold Medal Winner for Literary Fiction, 2018 Foreword Reviews Indies Book of the Year Award 

The Quelling—ferocious, tender, astonishing—lays bare our animalistic drives toward violence and love, and our human impulse to cure and to control. Barbara Barrow’s story of the sharp sisters Addie and Dorian, and the strange and transgressive Dr. Lark, brims with terrifying insights and the eerie intimacy of dreams.”

Anca L. Szilágyi, author of Daughters of the Air

“Complex and strange, The Quelling is a marvel of a debut. With an eye toward the Victorian madhouse and an American Gothicism reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, Barrow paints the sisters Dorian and Addie with tenderness and keen psychological intuition. Their voices, like the animal documentaries that play constantly in the background of their lives, remark frankly on the brutality of their experiences and yet capture an unfailing sense of wonder.”

—Jen Julian, author of Earthly Delights and Other Apocalypses, winner of Press 53’s 2018 Short Fiction Prize

The Quelling is a lyrical and deeply imagined story of two sisters struggling to be released from the near-unendurable anguish of their childhoods. It is an unflinching look at the effects of trauma and a dark exploration of depredation and survival through time and memory. As the title suggests it reveals both the vulnerability and the violence that can arise from our modern preoccupation with healing, curing, or fixing those who are emotionally unable to trust or love.

Multiple points of view and narrative streams create counterpoints that traverse a bleak terrain of clinical care. What Barrow manages to capture with her precise and minimalist style is a quotidian magic between the two sisters and their nurse Ellie, which is ultimately uplifting in a strange and haunting way. This is a brave and unique book.”

-Anne Perdue, author of I’m A Registered Nurse Not a Whore 

Read an excerpt here.