Gabino Iglesias Reviews All Nightmare Long by Tim Lebbon

All Nightmare Long, Tim Lebbon (PS Publish­ing 978-1-78636-851-5, $32.68, 417pp, hc) May 2022. Cover by Daniele Serra.

Sometimes reviewing a big (400+ pages) short story collection can be complicated because there are often a plethora of voices, themes, and approaches – not to mention a variety of different tales – in its pages. When that happens, the easiest thing to do is to go with some of the overarching themes and to speak of the collection as a whole instead of a mosaic in which every individual piece must be addressed. When it comes to Tim Lebbon’s All Nightmare Long, which packs 23 stories, a great introduction by Sarah Pinborough, and story notes at the end, it’s almost impossible to write a review that includes a discussion of every tale, but it’s very easy to make a statement that speaks to the quality of the entire collection: This is one of the best short story collections I read in 2022.

Here are, in no particular order, some of the best stories in All Nightmare Long, which contains no throwaway stories:

“In Stone”, the opening story, sets the mood perfectly. The plot is deceptively simple: a man begins to walk the city at night after the death of a friend. However, things quickly change, and the city becomes a living entity endowed with preda­tory instincts and too many dark places. Also, this take introduces one of the recurring themes in the collection: place as a character. The city becomes alive and takes center stage, and that happens a few more times in All Nightmare Long.

“Clown’s Kiss” is a deceptive, nightmarish narrative that’s also very Kafkaesque… except with clowns. Saying more would spoil it, so I’ll just say this is a master class in atmosphere and building tension.

“Sole Survivors” inhabits that bizarre space where horror is more unsettling than anything else. This chronicles a journalist’s look into a strange phenomenon: people who are rescued from accidents and catastrophes that weren’t there at the start and no one else remembers seeing while they were traveling or trapped or waiting to be rescued.

“Skin and Bone” and “Into the Death Zone” both deal with cold and expeditions/adventure. The first is about a man who encounters two bodies while on an expedition and quickly learns why they don’t have faces… and that not every­thing that’s dead stays that way. The second one is one of the shortest stories in the collection and follows a man who brings bodies down from Everest, and then enters their world. Both are very atmospheric and showcase Lebbon’s knack for descriptions, which is also wonderfully pres­ent in “Emergence”, which is, arguably, a very long description.

“Flotsam” follows a widow who, after the death of her husband, starts living at the beach. A few years later, she finds a bottle with a mes­sage from her husband. Then she finds more. This one walks the line between creepy and sad (something that “A Man Walking His Dog” also does very well), and shines a light into another recurring theme in this collection: how loneli­ness affects us and how sadness can morph into something worse.

Tim Lebbon is a great novelist, but not all great novelists are great short story writers. Lebbon definitely is, and All Nightmare Long collects some truly amazing work. Also, as Pinborough discusses in her introduction, this is a perfect collection in the sense that it shows his range and offers readers a wide variety or narrative tones. There’s some gore here and there, but also some existential dread, a lot of emotion, and even some writing that’s reflective and philosophical. The opening paragraph of “Emergence” is a perfect example: “Sometimes it’s turning left or right that changes your life. Sometimes it’s staring straight ahead, not paying attention to what’s around you in case it’s dangerous, or unpleasant, or something you wouldn’t want to go to sleep that night remembering.”

For those who haven’t read Lebbon – or haven’t read his short fiction – this is a perfect introduc­tion. For longtime fans of his work, this is a superb addition to his oeuvre that brings together some truly exceptional short stories. In other words, this is a collection everyone should read, and one that proves Lebbon is one of the finest purveyors of dark, unsettling fiction.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor, and book reviewer living in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs and the editor of Both Sides. His work has been nominated to the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019. His short stories have appeared in a plethora of anthologies and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and CrimeReads. His work has been published in five languages, optioned for film, and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl, and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Publishers Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Criminal Element, Mystery Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other print and online venues. He’s been a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards, and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

This review and more like it in the January 2023 issue of Locus.

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