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4.0 out of 5 stars A GROUP OF STARTLING AND GOOD STORIES,
What I always dread when reading dark stories is that I'll be confronted with the true horror in fiction writing - clichés. So it was great not to be waylaid by any among the seventeen strange tales in this anthology. There are haunted houses, to be sure, but they don't count as clichés here, and especially not in Alison Moore's Summerside, a story with an intriguing atmosphere and some skilful dialogue between house owner and tenant. In fact so competently and delicately does Alison handle the material that she has created a decent spooky house in just a few sentences. Houses are the settings for other stories in the collection and one in particular The Space Between by Ralph Robert Moore and Ray Cluley is striking. I smiled at `...old fashioned tub with a plastic shower curtain celebrating goldfish' - I can just see that abject thing. This story becomes more interesting by the minute and so I was able to overcome my dislike of the use of unfinished note-like sentences as a writing style, and the story does turn out to be original and unusual with some clever use of dialogue to evoke mood and feeling. Another original story idea was The Statue by Myriam Frey, in which the supposedly innocent and playful behaviour of a man pretending to be a statue turns very creepy, very quickly. An equally interesting premise is Death's Door Café by Kaaron Warren, a fond story and slightly wistfully told. Writings found in a Red Notebook by David Surface is also a well told story in which two vulnerable young people become frighteningly lost in a featureless landscape. Written in the form of a diary, the entries begin in a calm and matter of fact manner, but quickly become more and more alarming as the two realise their predicament. Perhaps the most original of all these stories, at least in that the story is conveyed to the reader in a wonderfully unique way, is the very cleverly written To Assume the Writer's Crown: Notes on the Craft by Eric Schaller. It begins in quite a rye manner in the form of an essay but quickly enough became deeply macabre as both its [real] meaning and where the reader is in relation to the author unfolds.
Ideally each story in an anthology should be strong both in terms of the originality of the story idea and in the style of its telling, but it is rare to find the two together. So also in this anthology in which some stories are terrific ideas but style and language use had not been in the forefront of the writer's mind. Yet the purposeful use of language is very evident in other stories, for example Onanon by Michael Welmut. This is a remarkably strange story which I couldn't possibly describe. I thought about it for a while and decided it didn't matter that I couldn't understand all of it, just as you don't have to examine the individual brush strokes in an impressionist painting and hope to understand it that way, so also, I felt the same for Onanon and was in the end happy to have been touched by the story. I loved this sentence:- `the words felt ill, somehow, concerned as they were with some implied creature on the periphery of the page.' Thinking about style still, while again I wasn't able to fully understand Road Dead by F Brett Cox, the slightly breathless tone of the story created by the use of short sentences and the lack of direct dialogue creates the mood and suits the subject matter.
For me, Shaddertown by Conrad Williams was particularly admirable. It is a powerfully written story full of fascinating imagery and tender humour and written with brilliant energy and perfect command of language. I noted a couple of other stories that were stylishly written. One was C. M Mukers Vranger, the sudden and alarming ending of which I had to read twice before I thought I knew what it meant. Another was The Vault of the Sky, the Face of the Deep, by Robert Levy, a sombre dignified story, elegantly rendered. I thought also that Apple Pie and Sulphur by Christopher Harman was written in a thoughtful way. At one point in this very long story, I was slightly reminded of the work of Robert Aickman. I particularly loved this:- `Sheep watched them approach, their faces stupidly noble, before prancing away under bouncing burdens of ragged wool.' While I was less interested in the storyline, this story did have some excellent descriptive passages.
Thinking now about sheer creepiness, It Flows from the Mouth by Robert Shearman is wonderful in its strangeness, a story plainly but very fluently written. This story gets steadily weirder, but not because anything extraordinary happens for a long time, but because you sense that Shearman is leading you somewhere very deliberately, [and you trust him to get you there] - then the story gets very strange indeed. By contrast perhaps, The Golem of Leopoldstadt by Tara Isabella Burton has a particular kind of terror in it right from the first word. This is a dramatic and tense story written economically and boldly.
The choice of the present tense in Hidden in the Alphabet by Charles Wilkinson, gives this story a curious detached feeling that suits it well. It was quite like watching a film and the pace of it was intriguing. This is a subtle gruesome story, stylishly written. I liked this description of a boy as having `...enormous blue eyes but with a sort of shivery sensitivity that was irritating, like a pedigree dog that had been badly inbred.'
I'm always pleased to find well written dialogue and V.H. Leslie's fairly traditional ghost story, The Quiet Room, not only has a good scary moment early on that notches up the tension, but has a convincing scene between a teenage girl and her father with solid dialogue. The father's hesitation about how he approaches his daughter sounds true to real life and V's mature writing style is a pleasure to read.
Apart from having a good story to tell and a stylish way of telling it, the settings in dark fiction are very often an important element. R.B Russell's The Night Porter is a story set in a slightly odd small hotel with Marianne, an avid reader employed as a night porter, who gets tied up with a curious character, a Miss Fisher, and as the story develops it becomes increasingly tense and weird.
Altogether, this anthology has some good chunky stories on offer, and some writers' names to watch out for in the future. It was my pleasure to be able to read them and leave this review.
5.0 out of 5 stars A celebration of the subtle.,
I love short horror fiction. I read lots of it: magazines, ezines, collections, anthologies and single stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this one.
Editor Michael Kelly obviously likes a certain kind of horror: contemporary, literary, subtle and undefined. There are no zombies, no vampires, no chainsaw-wielding psychopaths. Instead there are expertly drawn characters dealing with terrible things.
There are two main things that make this book special, compared to other anthologies I’ve read lately.
I’ve mentioned the lack of traditional monsters, but it seemed that all the characters here are all dealing with their own ghosts, either unresolved episodes from their past or some inner demon that becomes apparent in the story. Even when there is some outside agency it’s the characters’ action or flaws that attract them. It’s almost Shakespearian.
None of the stories resolve in a satisfactory way. I don’t mean that as a flaw, quite the opposite. Every story here leaves you guessing, either about what actually happened or how we should feel about it. This apparently simple technique means that we keep thinking about the stories after we’ve finished them. I imagine Michael Kelly writing back to some contributors saying See that bit at the end when the monster appears and explains everything – cut that and we’ve got a deal.
Horror fiction can work on many levels. I think of them as
creepy (glancing behind you while reading),
making you re-examine how you live your life.
Several of these stories work on that last level, the rarest and most effective of all.
It begins by deliberately unsettling the reader with Eric Schaller’s To Assume the Writer’s Crown: Notes on the Craft. This could be read several ways: as a genuine essay with a good dose of the author’s dark humour thrown in, or as a story told by someone who actually has a girl chained up in his basement just so he can write a good story about it, or a meditation on a writer’s relationship with his characters. I think the ambiguity is entirely deliberate and it makes uncomfortable reading for those of us who regularly use ink as a murder weapon.
And the book continues in that vein. The other pieces are more obviously stories, but that feeling of never knowing what’s going on remains throughout. I enjoyed every story in this book. Seriously, there wasn’t a single piece that I would have cut, but here I’ll only specifically mention my favourites.
Onanon by Michael Wehunt. This might be based on a genuine Scandinavian folk tale I haven’t heard, or it’s just so well told it seems real. Three strands of unpleasantness converge into something disturbing.
Death’s Door Cafe by Kaaron Warren. Taking a cliché and making it literal lets us explore morbidity in a story that seems upbeat but undercuts it and needles the reader.
H. Leslie’s The Quiet Room is about your past coming to get you. A house likes silence, so you can better hear the hollowness of your life.
Shaddertown by Conrad Williams is an apparently simple story that somehow encapsulates everything that modern western adults are afraid of in real life.
Ralph Robert Moore and Ray Cluley collaborated to produce The Space Between, in which a man finds he can spy on his neighbours and it becomes a compulsion that ruins his life. I read this as a parable about Facebook and the like but even without that resonant layer it’s a chilling story.
Shadows and Tall Trees is a truly brilliant book, showcasing the most subtle horror fiction currently being written. Go buy it.
5.0 out of 5 stars "a passionate manifesto for horror fiction in the short form",
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This review is from: Shadows & Tall Trees: 6 (Kindle Edition)
There's a lot of anthologies these days with titles like "Year's Best Horror..." etc. Shadows & Tall Trees 6 isn't called such a thing, but it might as well be. A stunning collection of stories, with not a bad one among the bunch. Intelligent, well-written, original horror fiction and (along with the editor's introduction) a passionate manifesto for horror fiction in the short form. Superb.
5.0 out of 5 stars and beautifully written. Editor Michael Kelly has exercised great taste ...,
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A superb collection of very different and original horror stories. Not a gore-fest by any means, but disturbing and macabre all the same, and beautifully written. Editor Michael Kelly has exercised great taste in these selections. A must-read for fans of the genre, but it's appeal to should extend way beyond that as this is some great writing.
4.0 out of 5 stars A new benchmark in quality short fiction.,
Another cracking issue, now expanded to anthology length. Stand out stories were Shaddertown by Conrad Williams, Death's Door Cafe by Kaaron Warren, Apple Pie and Sulphur by Christopher Harman, Night Porter by R.B.Russell, The Space Between by Moore and Cluley and, my favourite of the collection, The Quiet Room by V.H. Leslie. The 2015 volume can't come soon enough.
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Shadows & Tall Trees: 6 by Michael Kelly