I think I know whose woods these are.
They are the woods of Michael Wehunt, and they are indeed lovely, dark, and deep. Though the title of the author’s first collection posits that we’ll be visiting the rosier side of the neighborly fence and venturing into pastoral lands oft dreamed of, Wehunt’s stories are literally and figuratively crowded with the long shapes of trees, their robust boughs and skeletal branches looming over the diverse cast of characters with the threat of imminent danger and the promise of new beginnings. Wehunt is our guide through this murky wood, the passion and sorrow he brings to each story like the glow of warm lamplight that we faithfully follow through the gnarled heart of his imagination.
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Reading weird and dark fiction at the rate that I normally do can sometimes inspire a kind of tunnel vision. While stories may differ greatly in subject matter, setting, or voice, the one element that has always remained the same in my experience is tone. Each story, no matter how diverse the prose, generally fluctuates between inspiring feelings of terror or awe. To put it another way, my resulting state of mind come the story’s end is generally the same. Weird is the weird fiction that doesn’t presume to upset the balance of reality or point out our human insignificance within the grand scheme. I think it’s for this reason that I struggled with The Arrival of Missives, Aliya Whiteley’s new novella from Unsung Stories. For nearly its entire length it refused to fit into the parameters that I had subconsciously built for it, humbling me by revealing the blinders that I had been wearing during this literary journey.
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Horror being, among other things, the genre of subversion, it stands to reason that the authors working in this mode should frequently take the landscapes that make up their homes and their travels and introduce elements of the fantastic to both accentuate and complement the darker qualities inherent in those landscapes. Mer Whinery has managed to do this with his first collection, staging his sordid dramas in the lonely country heart of the eponymous Little Dixie, the greasy twilight zone of Oklahoma.
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From the moment that Warren Oates swings open the bank teller’s window and greets the audience on the other side with a grin equal parts sleaze and charm, DILLINGER (1973) appears to be another production mining the gangster-as-folk-hero vein ala BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967). A wealthy pigeon of a woman has just turned her nose up at the unseen teller, and the impression seems to be that she, standing right in front of the infamous criminal who will shortly make off with her precious cash, is going to get what’s coming to her. Clearly, the pompous woman is in the social minority–the opening credits wryly play a jaunty version of “We’re in the Money” over a photo montage mainly composed of poverty-stricken families of the Depression–and Dillinger’s theft aligns him with the conception of the criminal as a modern-day Robin Hood, but one who though adamantly opposed to killing any bystanders takes no visible issue with riddling cops and bank guards with hot lead, leaving them to bloodily convulse in the dust.
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Like the malcontent MARTIN (1977) who sought answers and an alternative nightside to the dull, crushing poverty of his daylit hours, Joan Mitchell (Jan White) plunges into the world of all-the-rage witchcraft to distract from the role of compliant housewife that has been both pressed upon her and eased into without much personal pushback. (Not only is Joan’s input constantly interrupted in conversation, but the film’s alternate title in Britain, JACK’S WIFE, further classifies her as a non-entity in the possession of another.) Seeing perpetually smashed, older friend Shirley (Ann Muffly) shatter at the thought of her advanced age–an aching scene–kindles similar fears in Joan, and it’s tempting to view her black magic experimentations as the pagan inverse to the materialistic mid-life crisis of the rougher sex.
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Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the fact that the “King in Yellow” cycle of author Robert W. Chambers consists of only four core texts—two of them only tangential in reference, and all short stories at that—is the notion that someone might endeavor to create an anthology written in tribute to and existing in the same fictional world of that cycle. But seasoned writer and editor Joseph Pulver, Sr., himself the author of his own homages to Chambers, has endeavored to do just that, and he has taken on the additional tact of sourcing stories from some of the genre’s fiercest female writers, lending a stage to the women of Carcosa so that their song may be heard by readers and followers of the Yellow Sign alike.
Continue reading “REVIEW: Cassilda’s Song ed. Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.”
We live in a time of plenty.
In the last decade and change, the rise of small publishing houses and e-reader devices has opened up a doorway through which a veritable smorgasbord of dark fiction has poured forth into the hands of fans who might not have otherwise encountered them. But not even the accessibility or mass proliferation of grim literature can be held entirely accountable for the embarrassment of riches we have today. A similar wave passed during the Great Horror Boom of the 70s and 80s, but the current renaissance we live in now has granted us the gift of quality in addition to quantity.
This commitment to higher literary standards, along with a special devotion to the short story, has led to the releases of dozens of books in the last few years that all bear the craftsman’s seal of approval, a time when even debut collections hum with a vitality and talent that wouldn’t have been dreamt of in those bygone days of spinner rack terrors. With the unleashing of The Nameless Dark, T. E. Grau has cemented himself as an author whose byline should spark in readers a joyful expectancy for what surprises there are to follow.
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It’s no secret that the shadow of cinema has loomed large over American horror fiction ever since the premiere of the country’s first devoutly supernatural chiller on Valentine’s Day, 1931. (That would be Tod Browning’s DRACULA for the philistines out there.) Since then novels and short stories alike have drawn inspiration from the silver screen and recycled its motifs—the reverse has held true less of the time—even, on some occasions, directly reacting to it and incorporating its characters and mythologies into its own form as well. This latter trend is, for the most part, a recent phenomenon, with genre luminaries such as Joe Lansdale, Norm Partridge, and David J. Schow being a handful of contemporary authors who proudly honor the celluloid gods and monsters of their youth by paying tribute to them in their stories. Orrin Grey may count himself a practitioner of this fine tradition.
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