The greatest horror novel I’ve ever read: “Prom Dress” by Lael Littke

I’ve now told the plot of this book to several people (not one of them asked) and every time, they’re like:

We need to start with the cover. It’s amazing and I love it so much. That dress is an Anne Shirley monstrosity.

Robin is this high school girl who is poor. She is a good dancer. Remember that. She has a rich boyfriend. She is super insecure about going to the prom with him because she doesn’t have anything nice to wear. She’s an after-school caretaker for an old woman named Miss Catherine who is scarred because of the time her deformed sister threw acid on her.

She tells Robin that she’s welcome to go upstairs and check out all her beautiful vintage dresses and borrow one for the prom. Just not, you know, the ONE dress. You can see where this is going.

Robin goes into the attic and the dress starts glowing and talking to her.

“The dress was made of deep scallops of creamy lace.  It had long sleeves and a high lace collar.  Like the flame colored dress, it had a dropped waistline, but the two dresses were worlds apart.  While the red one called out blatantly for excitement and dancing the braying of horns, the lace one spoke softly of elegance and muted music and romance.”

Robin steals it. “Borrows” it. Whatever. It’s important to note that when she holds it up to admire it in the mirror, she thinks she sees some sort of shadow on her face.

She wears the dress to prom and apparently all of the other girls are very jealous of it.

But then. BUT THEN. She and her boyfriend are crowned king and queen of the prom and The Dress makes the Prom Throne fall on her legs and then it smashes them and she has to be rushed to the emergency room and she might never dance again! But: this is also important: The dress has no blood on it whatsoever.

So Robin’s out.

Next, we meet Felicia. She’s Robin’s nurse. She’s dating a divinity student named Mark who sounds real fun at parties. In fact, she has to go to an EXTREMELY fun-sounding party that very night where she’ll meet the dean of Mark’s department, and if he doesn’t like her or think she’s good enough, apparently he’ll need to break up with her. This is quite a predicament for Felicia because all her dresses are slutty whore dresses, meaning they have bare backs or spaghetti straps. It’s just like a really hard situation because apparently she’s unable to go shopping for a different dress.

Felicia asks Robin if she can borrow the dress, and obviously Robin says no, and also, Felicia is bad at her job because it’s maybe not a good time?! You already know she is absolutely going to borrow this dress. She holds it up to see how gloriously puritanical it will look on her and, like Robin, sees a smudge or shadow on her face in the mirror. The Dress is really consistent about telling you that it is going to fuck you up.

Felicia steals the dress anyway and wears it to the Puritan Dinner of Judgement. She looks like really awesome in it.

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You guys. The next thing that happens is: the dress starts choking her. It keeps getting tighter and tighter and she feels like she can’t breathe! So she runs upstairs to steal some clothes to change into, and then steals a bag to take the dress back to Robin at the hospital, not realizing this bag has a string of expensive pearls in it. She runs out of the house and is obviously seen by Mark and various other people at the party. She tries to get on a bus but is apprehended almost immediately and comes up with some story about a sexual deviant apprehending her at the party, forcing her to strip, etc, and I don’t know what I’d expect her to say but the whole thing is just–

So Felicia leaves the bag containing the dress and pearls on the bus, where it’s found by young Nicole, who is a genius high school student who is also hot for her her teacher. She has disgusting fantasies about this man leaving his wife and children for her.

“She wondered if he’d mind if she went to college after their marriage.  Very likely he’d insist on it.  Maybe he’d go back for more graduate work.  Maybe they’d both go to college.”

I’m very pro-college but Nicole is dumb and gross in the way that she thinks about relationships. So then. SO THEN. Nicole has a big fancy Debate Team Smart People Event she needs to look swellegant for, so she steals The Dress and puts it on and looks great in it, because the thing about this Satan dress is that it really conforms to whoever is wearing it, it’s like one of those expensive mattresses or whatever. So Nicole looks mature and not like the twerp she is – I totally picture her looking like Mallory Pike, who even Ann M. Martin does not care for — and her adult teacher starts flirting with her!

Even I think this is getting tedious. The cops show up, following whatever bizarro lead Felicia gave them, and are about to come talk to Nicole. She gets freaked out, runs away, runs straight into a pillar, and essentially smashes her brain and will have amnesia forever. Everybody at that town’s lone hospital is probably like:

So Nicole is taken to the same hospital as Robin, Felicia is there for some reason, I guess she went back to work after her fake trauma of lies, and Felicia and Robin agree that the dress is evil and must be destroyed.

They give it to Robin’s little sister Gabby to take back to Miss Catherine’s attic and to definitely not put it on under any circumstances. Gabby is a very gifted piano player and also a little shit who is hot for her sister’s boyfriend and wants to steal him, so once again we can see where this is going.

Robin’s boyfriend apparently also plays the piano. He and Gabby are practicing a very complicated song to welcome Robin home from the hospital. I just don’t feel like that would help me feel better in the situation if I were Robin. But I don’t know their family. Regardless, Gabby is trash because she and Robin’s Boyfriend have been practicing so mush that they now have a job playing the piano together.

Robin has the bag with the dress in it, which she wheels on over to Miss Catherine so that she can return it and come clean. Miss Catherine loves this. Because Miss Catherine is not Miss Catherine. Miss Catherine is Rowena.

Rowena explains that she thought some guy named Michael was going to ask her to prom back in the day, but he didn’t. He asked her sister instead–Catherine, who had no birthmark, and was beautiful. Rowena started making the dress for herself, and ended up giving it to Catherine to wear to the prom, and when Catherine got home, Rowena threw acid on her face. She made sure to do it while Catherine was still wearing the cloak, though, because Rowena didn’t want the dress to get ruined.

This is very dramatic: Gabby is about to go off to the Boyfriend-Stealing Piano Event with Robin’s Boyfriend. Robin arrives at the house just in time to see her leave. WEARING THE DRESS. Robin has a very Jude Law in “Gattaca” moment and forces herself out of the chair and drags herself to the car to prevent Gabby from driving away, because obviously they will get in a car accident and Gabby’s fingers will get smashed forever. Robin passes out from the pain but does manage to prevent The Dress from ruining Gabby’s life as well.

When Robin comes to, she finds out that Rowena was released to Catherine’s care after spending some time in an insane asylum, and eventually Catherine died in a fire and Rowena gouged her birthmark out to make it look like the acid burn so she could pretend to be Catherine.

The book ends with a young woman who is an aspiring actress with a really great voice discovering the dress in a thrift store. It is too much for her so she steals it. She’s really excited to wear it the next day. The end.

The thing is I legitimately love this book though.