This 2013 short story collection by Nathan Ballingrud won the Shirley Jackson award. I found it while combing around for good short stories that have monsters as central figures, whether real or imagined. After reading one of two in this collection, I couldn’t put it down. The author’s deftly woven and beautifully written terror tales are very compelling.
I am not usually drawn to books that have actual monsters, like vampires, werewolves, or lake creatures. But I was impressively creeped out (in a good way) by the inhabitants of Ballingrud’s stories. His human characters have personal demons that haunt them, and they are intensified by the fears and feelings that the physical monsters evoke in them. And the monsters don’t hide in haunted houses or dungeons — they lurk under normal family homes, around new subdivisions, or wash up on a familiar lake shore.
In “Wild Acre,” the werewolf story, there is an actual beast, but the author only gives you a shadowed glimpsed of it during the opening pages. The rest of the story is about the psychological damage the encounter inflicts on Jeremy, the sole survivor of the attack. The violence of the mysterious killings begets violence in him and in his relationships; he can’t escape and he is tortured by something he didn’t really even see.
In “Sunbleached,” a vampire lives beneath a house of a lonely, estranged family. He has taken Joshua, the young teen in residence. Joshua is in the process of being “changed,” but the story is more about betrayal. Joshua feels betrayed by his mother, his father, and finally, by the vampire that he has been coaxed to trust in.
My favorite story, however, was “The Crevasse.” This is a story that is a mash-up of Jack London and gothic horror. An arctic expedition crew loses a sled dog to a crevasse. In an an effort to put the dog out its misery, the crew’s doctor makes a dangerous descent into the crevasse. There, he sees and hears evidence of something deeply haunting in the earth. But does he? The story is about overcoming loss, another invisible demon we all face.
I really enjoyed this great little collection. If you are looking for something to bring up the Halloween spirit, this could do the trick.
Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian.
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