For the first three or four months of 2020, I had a difficult time focusing on anything – reading, writing, watching movies – for long enough to complete it. I devoted the spring to forcing myself to sit with a book or piece of writing or film long enough to engage it, and to keep engaging it until I was at the other side of it. The result was a ...Read MoreRead more
The most impressive novel of 2019 was Michelle Paver’s Wakenhyrst. It’s an utter triumph of a book, a pitch-perfect evocation of the stories of M.R. James and A.C. Benson filtered through a 21st-century sensibility; the result is reminiscent of Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger. Concise and intense, filled with references to the tradition of English ghost stories, Paver’s novel succeeds on a number of levels. Starting with her ...Read MoreRead more
Wounds, Nathan Ballingrud (Saga Press 978-1-534-44992-3, $26.99, 288pp, hc) April 2019.
Wounds, Nathan Ballingrud’s stellar sophomore collection, is bracketed by a pair of stories concerning Hell. In “The Atlas of Hell”, an antiquarian bookseller is sent by a local gangster deep into the Louisiana bayou to retrieve the titular object; while in “The Butcher’s Table”, a group of 18th-century diabolists undertake the perilous sea voyage to the near ...Read MoreRead more
The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, John Hornor Jacobs (Harper Voyager $3.99 127pp, eb) October 2018.
John Hornor Jacobs’s The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky is an excellently written, Lovecraft-inflected novella concerned with the history of an invented South American nation and the life of its most famous poet. It begins in Malaga, Spain, in 1987, with Isabel, the first-person narrator, noticing an older man wearing an ...Read MoreRead more
Cross Her Heart, Sarah Pinborough (HarperCollins UK 978-0008132019, £12.99, 384pp, hc) May 2018. (Morrow 9780062856791 $26.99, 352pp, hc) September 2018.
As was the case with Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough’s previous bestseller, there’s a significant plot twist in Cross Her Heart, her new novel. The difference is, this crook in the narrative arrives at roughly its halfway point and is only the first of several which accelerate ...Read MoreRead more
Novels first, then: Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World is the novel of 2018. With his previous two books, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock and A Head Full of Ghosts, Tremblay announced himself as among the most ambitious of his generation of horror writers, producing novels that drew on the examples of the genre’s great practitioners, King and Jackson, while blending them with a 21st- century ...Read MoreRead more
With H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith is one of the major writers associated with the original incarnation of Weird Tales magazine. Of the three, Lovecraft has received the lion’s share of critical attention, from the essays regularly published first in Lovecraft Studies and now the Lovecraft Annual, to such book-length studies as Maurice Levy’s Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic and Robert Waugh’s The Monster in ...Read MoreRead more
Tide of Stone, Kaaron Warren (Omnium Gatherum 9780615827995 $14.99, 374pp, tp) May 2018.
Tide of Stone, Kaaron Warren’s excellent new novel, concerns a unique prison: a great stone tower located on the Australian coast, which houses the worst of the region’s criminals. What distinguishes the prison is neither its shape nor the depravity of its inmates, but the punishment they are undergoing. The residents of nearby Tempuston, who ...Read MoreRead more
glass slipper dreams, shattered, Doungjai Gam (Apokrupha 9781721770724 $7.99 74pp, tp) September 2018.
Many of the most famous examples of horror fiction are brief, from such campfire classics as “The Hook” to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. (Even Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” falls on the shorter end of the spectrum.) Despite this, writing a truly effective short horror story, let alone one at flash fiction length, is a rock upon ...Read MoreRead more
All the Fabulous Beasts, Priya Sharma (Undertow 9781988964027, $17.99, 288pp, tp) May 2018.
“The Crow Palace”, the opening story in Priya Sharma’s luminous debut collection, All the Fabulous Beasts, begins with its protagonist revisiting a childhood memory. When she was young, Julie tells us, living with her parents and twin in a large house in the English countryside, her father built a bird table, an arrangement of large ...Read MoreRead more
The Ones Who Are Waving, Glen Hirshberg (Cemetery Dance 9781587676314, $40.00, 208pp, hc) March 2018.
“Freedom is Space for the Spirit”, the first story in Glen Hirshberg’s excellent collection, The Ones Who Are Waving, is a tale of returns. It begins when Thomas, its protagonist, receives a telegram from Vasily, a friend from his youth, requesting his return to St. Petersburg. As a university student, Thomas left then-East ...Read MoreRead more
The Immaculate Void, Brian Hodge (ChiZine 9781771484374 $17.99, 232pp, tp) May 2018.
For the last several years, Brian Hodge, always one of his generation’s leading writers of horror, has been having something of a renaissance, writing stories which have been among the highlights of anthologies including The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, Children of Lovecraft, and The Devil and the Deep. The Immaculate Void, his gripping ...Read MoreRead more
Halcyon, Rio Youers (St. Martin’s 9781250072412 $27.99, 384pp, hc) July 2018.
While Halcyon, Rio Youers’s new novel, is not a direct sequel to last year’s The Forgotten Girl, it shares the previous novel’s interest in psychic phenomena. Once again, Youers links psychic ability to a young woman, in this case, Edith Lovegrove, 10-year-old daughter of Martin and Laura, younger sister of 15-year-old Shirley. As the novel begins, ...Read MoreRead more
Apart in the Dark: Novellas, Ania Ahlborn (Gallery 9781501187537 $16.00, 384pp, tp) January 2018.
For several years, Ania Ahlborn has been constructing narratives whose concern with aberrant psychology frequently intersects the supernatural. Apart in the Dark collects two novellas, “The Pretty Ones” and “I Call Upon Thee”, previously published electronically, which together offer a good introduction to her work. The book includes an introduction in which Ahlborn discusses her ...Read MoreRead more
Spectral Evidence, Gemma Files (Trepidatio 9781947654181 $15.95, 212pp, tp) February 2018.
Spectral Evidence, Gemma Files’s excellent new collection, is her first such book since 2004’s The Worm in Every Heart (2014 did bring We Will All Go Down Together, which assembled a number of shorter works, but it did so in the interest of fashioning them into a larger whole, a kind of hyper-novel, which is a ...Read MoreRead more
The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Tremblay (Morrow 978-0062679109, $26.99, 288pp, hc) June 2018.
Anyone who has followed Paul Tremblay’s short fiction, from the stories collected in the remarkable In the Mean Time, to “Where We Will All Be” in Joseph Pulver, Sr.’s The Grimscribe’s Puppets and “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks” in Bourbon Penn magazine, knows that one ...Read MoreRead more
The Hunger, Alma Katsu (Putnam 978-0735212510, $27.00, 384pp, hc) March 2018.
Every history is to some extent a secret history, offering new information on its subject, or, barring that, a fresh perspective, which may yield similar results. Nowhere is this more true than in books addressing themselves to famous subjects, which must make a greater effort to earn space on bookshelves already crowded. If historical fiction has the advantage ...Read MoreRead more
The Teardrop Method, Simon Avery (TTA Press £8.00, 160pp, tp) November 2017.
Krisztina, the protagonist of Simon Avery’s excellent novella, The Teardrop Method, is a musician living in Budapest. A singer whose debut album earned her promising notice, she turned her back on the music industry in favor of love. In the aftermath of a devastating accident that befalls her partner, however, Krisztina begins to hear fragments of ...Read MoreRead more
Strange Weather, Joe Hill (William Morrow 978-0-06-266311-5, $27.99, 448pp, hc) October 2017.
Henry James famously called the novella the “blessed form,” and it’s long been a truism that the form is especially well-suited to horror narratives, offering sufficient length to develop character and situation, but sufficient concentration to focus effect. James’s own The Turn of the Screw exemplifies this combination, as do many of the most famous examples of ...Read MoreRead more
She Said Destroy, Nadia Bulkin (Word Horde 978-1-9399-05-33-8, $16.99, 264pp, tp) August 2017.
“Intertropical Convergence Zone”, the opening story in Nadia Bulkin’s strong debut collection, She Said Destroy, details the efforts of a general to gain the abilities that will enable him to rule his native country. In consultation with a local shaman, he consumes a succession of objects, each of which grants him a new power. By ...Read MoreRead more
I’ve always subscribed to the big-tent view of horror fiction. While I don’t go so far as to say that horror isn’t a genre (it is), the edges of the field can be difficult to map, especially if your view of it is rooted in its concern with (to paraphrase Stephen King) a pervasive sense of disestablishment, a feeling that things are in the unmaking. 2017 provided a fine example ...Read MoreRead more
The Murders of Molly Southbourne, Tade Thompson (Tor.com 9780765397133 $11.99, 128pp, tp) October 2017.
The figure of the doppelganger features in the work of a number of well-known writers, from Poe (“William Wilson”) to Dostoyevsky (The Double) to Dick (“The Father Thing”) to Ellison (“Shatterday”). In these narratives, and in the larger traditions from which they draw, the appearance of one’s double is a cause for anxiety. ...Read MoreRead more
Naming the Bones, Laura Mauro (Self-published 9781544177748, $9.00, 224pp, tp) June 2017.
Naming the Bones, the title of Laura Mauro’s compelling novella, refers to a coping mechanism her protagonist, Alessa, arrives at in order to help her through the post-traumatic stress from which she suffers in the wake of a terrorist bombing. When she feels a panic attack coming on, Alessa begins reciting the bones of the human ...Read MoreRead more
The Changeling, Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau 9780812995947, $28.00, 448pp, hc) June 2017.
In its opening sentence, The Changeling, Victor LaValle’s excellent new novel, describes the story it is about to tell as a fairy tale. The second half of the line locates this fairy tale in a specific year, 1968, during a specific event, a garbage strike. The strike, we learn, is taking place in New York ...Read MoreRead more
Mapping the Interior, Stephen Graham Jones (Tor.com Publishing 9780765395108, $10.99, 112pp, tp) June 2017.
Mapping the Interior, Stephen Graham Jones’s astonishing novella, begins with the narrator sighting the ghost of his father. Twelve-year-old Junior lives in a small house with his widowed mother and younger brother, Dino, on a Native American reservation somewhere in the American west. His father has been dead for years, long enough ago that ...Read MoreRead more
Pretty Marys All in a Row, Gwendolyn Kiste (Broken Eye Books 9781940372310, $9.99, 90pp, tp) November 2017.
Gwendolyn Kiste’s recent collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, was one of the more impressive debuts of the past year, combining a graceful style with a striking and original vision. With her new novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, Kiste tries her hand at a longer form. ...Read MoreRead more
I Wish I Was Like You, S.P. Miskowski (JournalStone 9781945373787, $16.95, 249pp, tp) July 2017.
I Wish I Was Like You, the title of S.P. Miskowski’s searing new novel, is one half of a lyric from Nirvana’s song, “All Apologies.” Its conclusion, “easily amused,” helps to define the book’s narrator-protagonist, Greta. If she is anything, it’s not easily amused. Yet there’s an additional implication to Miskowski’s choice of ...Read MoreRead more
Hieroglyphs of Blood & Bone, Michael Griffin (JournalStone 9781945373527, $13.95, 176pp, tp) February 2017.
Hieroglyphs of Blood & Bone, Michael Griffin’s strong debut novel, is narrated by Guy, a man newly divorced from his wife of more than two decades. Adrift without her, he has moved into a houseboat with Karl, his co-worker at the boatyard where Guy has an office position. Karl is 29, a college dropout, ...Read MoreRead more
Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, Benjamin Percy (Graywolf Press 9781555977597 $16.00, 160pp, tp) October 2016.
The essays collected in Benjamin Percy’s Thrill Me address different aspects of the same topic, the writing of fiction. It’s a subject about which no shortage of titles exists. What distinguishes Percy’s contribution is the clarity of his prose and his suggestions for the aspiring and apprentice writer. A self-described outliner, Percy structures each
Certain Dark Things, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Thomas Dunne Books 9781250099082, $25.99, 336pp, hc) October 2016.
The world of Certain Dark Things, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s fast-moving new novel, is one in which the existence of vampires has been an established and accepted fact for the last four decades. Some countries met this revelation by expelling vampires from their borders, others, by placing them under strict control. In response, many vampires relocated
They Say a Girl Died Here Once, Sarah Pinborough (Earthling Publications 9780996211833, $35.00, 207pp, hc) October 2016.
The family at the heart of They Say a Girl Died Here Once, Sarah Pinborough’s excellent new novel, is in retreat. Three years prior to the book’s opening, Anna, its teenaged protagonist, was slipped a date-rape drug at a party. Her ensuing assault by a number of boys was filmed and