Monstrous Affections by David Nickle. A collection of short stories by one of my favorite horror authors. There are some appearances by standard horror monsters in here (vampires, ghosts, wendigo, serial killers, and a quite interesting role for the Cyclops out of Greek mythology), but this collection is mostly characterized by the unusually literary-fiction quality of the writing, where the horror or its explanation is not always self-evident and can take some reflection. Which is not to say that they're not scary! Nickle does an excellent job of establishing a creepy atmosphere, and there's some images in these stories that will linger with me for a long time.
I was also impressed by the diversity of writing styles demonstrated in these stories. "Janie and the Wind" and "The Delilah Party" both have neuroatypical narrators, and Nickle does an excellent job of capturing their voices. "Swamp Witch and the Tea-drinking Man" has a oral folklore quality that's quite distinct from the rest of the collection.
Some of my other favorite stories:
"The Sloan Men". A woman goes to visit her future in-laws, but slowly realizes that her boyfriend is not quite human and has been mind-controlling her into a relationship.
"Night of the Tar Baby". A spell that attacks anyone who expresses anger is set loose in an extremely dysfunctional family.
"The Mayor Will Make a Brief Statement and Then Take Questions". This very short story (only two pages) strongly reminded me of the best of Welcome to Night Vale, though it's darker in tone.
"The Inevitability of Earth". A man tries to follow his grandfather in learning to fly, but it requires cutting all ties to earth and human relationships.
"Polyphemus' Cave". Set in the 1930s, a gay closeted Hollywood star returns to his small hometown after his father's death, and encounters the strange circus who might have been responsible.
Wild Fell by Michael Rowe. A horror novel in three parts, centered around the gothic mansion of Wild Fell, a huge isolated house built on a small island in the northernmost section of Lake Ontario. In the first part, set in the 1960s, two teenagers on a nearby beach drown horribly. In the second, Jamie, a young boy in 1970s Ottawa, speaks to his reflection in mirrors, naming this imaginary friend Amanda. But he slowly starts to suspect that Amanda might be real, and might have terrible intentions. Finally, in the modern day the middle-aged Jamie comes into a windfall of money and spontaneously buys a house – which, of course, turns out to be Wild Fell itself. From that point on, all the typical haunted house tropes come into play.
This was a moderately well-done book. The three sections don't always fit well together, and the creepiest parts are undoubtedly in the two earlier ones; the final confrontation with the house is both fairly predictable and ends far too abruptly. There's also a long passage between parts two and three detailing Jamie's early adulthood, his failed marriage, and his father's struggles with Alzheimer's, which is all well-written but doesn't seem to have much to do with the rest of the book or have any real point. There's some interesting stuff with gender going on, but it doesn't ultimately come to any conclusion – though on the other hand, I guess it is kinda neat that the narrator's best friend can be a butch lesbian without that being a big deal. There's also an ambiguous twist ending (ambiguous in the "is it real or not?" sense) that didn't quite work for me, but at least it was an ambitious attempt.
Ah, well. It's not an awful book, by any means, but there's so many other haunted house books out there that it's easy to find a better one.
What are you currently reading?
Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk. I've got a few more chapters to go before finishing this, and then that will be the end of my Halloween reads until next year. Goodbye, scary stories!
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