A quartet of horror: consider me the bearer of terror

I’ve been tremen­dous­ly lucky to have read four absolute­ly aston­ish­ing (and appro­pri­ate­ly hor­rif­ic) short sto­ry col­lec­tions of late. Lucky, or pos­si­bly eas­i­ly enter­tained. Your choice, but either way I’m gonna rave about ‘em!

In the spir­it of the short sto­ry, my reviews will be brief, con­cise, and effec­tive. I’ll go alpha­bet­i­cal­ly by author, to ensure favourites are not played here. Because it’s very easy to be impar­tial when you love every­body and have noth­ing bad to say. Nobody’s going home with a note here! But the reviews prob­a­bly will sound a lit­tle sim­i­lar to each oth­er. I promise, I’ll read some bad fic­tion soon and tear it to shreds for your enter­tain­ment, I promise, ‘k?

North Amer­i­can Lake Mon­sters, Nathan Ballingrud

This Bram Stok­er Award-nom­i­nat­ed col­lec­tion is (okay, yeah, I am play­ing favourites, sue me) one of the most aston­ish­ing­ly orig­i­nal, mem­o­rable, haunt­ing, and all-out fan­tas­tic col­lec­tions of hor­ror fic­tion I’ve ever read—and that includes any­thing by Stephen King and Clive Bark­er, my go-to authors for every­thing hor­rif­ic and good in this world. Nathan Ballingrud inverts the pos­si­bil­i­ties inher­ent in the genre, pre­sent­ing sto­ries that would almost past for superb kitchen-sink-style slices of life if it weren’t for that mon­ster lurk­ing in the cor­ner. The title sto­ry is a fine exam­ple, a ten­der por­trait of a man try­ing to recon­nect with his fam­i­ly yet fail­ing because of his own self­ish ten­den­cies, while the grue­some remains of…some­thing rot on the beach near­by. Lit­tle is spelled out here; all is sub­tle­ty and grace, paired against unnerv­ing glimpses of the unknow­able. Noth­ing against the oth­er nom­i­nees (whom I’ve yet to read, but I’m cer­tain they are all fine peo­ple), but if Ballingrud does not win the Stok­er for Supe­ri­or Achieve­ment in a Fic­tion Col­lec­tion (there’s a mouth­ful), the award is moot.

Hor­ror Sto­ry and Oth­er Hor­ror Sto­ries, Robert Boy­czuk

A col­lec­tion that calls itself Hor­ror Sto­ry bet­ter have at least one damn good hor­ror sto­ry, lest you think it a par­o­dy of the genre such as Scary Movie. Plus, it bet­ter be bet­ter than Scary Movie. No prob­lem here: Robert Boy­czuk (whose nov­els Nexus: Ascen­sion and The Book of Thomas prove him a mas­ter of both the short and long form) has put togeth­er a col­lec­tion that riv­ets you to your seat even as it pulls the rug out from under you. “Cure for Can­cer” is a night­mare of twist­ed love, and “Query” is a mas­ter­piece of lit­er­ary insan­i­ty that any­one in the pub­lish­ing indus­try will con­nect with. The sto­ry “Hor­ror Sto­ry” would make such a ter­rif­ic movie, I’m sur­prised no one has done it yet.

Mon­strous Affec­tions, David Nick­le

David Nickle’s on quite a tear late­ly, with recent nov­els Eutopia, Rasputin’s Bas­tards, and The ‘Geis­ters prov­ing him a tal­ent of vast range, depth, and awe­some­sauce. Yet Nick­le could have stopped with this col­lec­tion, his pub­lish­ing debut, and I’d still be in thrall to his every whim. In Mon­strous Affec­tions (which may have the great­est book cov­er ever con­ceived), we dis­cov­er the wis­dom of talk­ing fish, the hero­ism of witch­es, the per­sis­tence of flies, and the ugli­ness of love. Rich char­ac­ters and a love of unique twists top off a cap­ti­vat­ing and some­times grue­some col­lec­tion of night­mares.

And lest you think Nick­le only a spec­ta­tor when it comes to hor­ror, he’s also a reporter who often cov­ers Rob Ford’s con­tin­u­ing efforts to debase the con­cept of the Cana­di­an politi­cian. So Nick­le is brave as well as tal­ent­ed, and he knows true hor­ror when he sees it.

Every House is Haunt­ed, Ian Rogers

Win­ner of the ReLit Award for Best Short Fic­tion, Ian Roger’s debut is a cork­er, a paean to every­thing that scares us. Like the best of hor­ror fic­tion, Rogers’ sto­ries defy easy cat­e­go­riza­tion. A jazz club may or may not be Hell, but is cer­tain­ly not a place you want to vis­it. A love­able house­cat proves adept at exter­mi­nat­ing pests of all sizes. A camp­fire sto­ry takes an unusu­al turn. And in “Delet­ed Scenes” (my favourite in a col­lec­tion rife with nom­i­nees), an actor finds him­self employ­ment by film­ing scenes nev­er meant to be seen. Rogers has a way of tweak­ing even the most mun­dane idea and mak­ing it sparkle anew. Believe me, I’ll nev­er look at a spi­der the same way again. Or ever again.