GLEN HIRSHBERG, AN APPRECIATION
This past summer I had the distinct pleasure of getting to meet one of my TOP TWO favorite living horror writers, Mr. Glen Hirshberg, when he came to our town on a whirlwind tour for his latest novel Motherless Child. He turned out to be a very friendly person and didn’t even blanch when I asked him several geeky questions about his stories. Overall, it couldn’t have been a more enjoyable experience (he’s a great live reader, too). Score!
One of the reasons Mr. Hirshberg is such a hero of mine is because it was the discovery of his now infamous story “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Fourteenth Annual Collection (edited by genre stalwarts Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling) that got me seriously writing fiction again after having given it up years earlier. The only word befitting of Mr. Dark is “masterpiece”, as far as I’m concerned, and it was the story that really put GH on the map. If you’ve never read it, you owe it to yourself to chase it down. It is THE PERFECT HALLOWEEN STORY, and is to that holiday in my mind as “A Christmas Carol” is to xmas.
What I like about GH’s genre work is that he is a writer first and foremost, and then a horror writer. In other words, he’s more interested in the human condition and its attendant foibles than in “just” being scary or creepy. As a big-time reader of short-form horror fiction, this is refreshing. It informs everything he writes, and infuses a feeling of real humanity into it. Of course, the flip side is that the more flesh-and-blood the characters of a piece of fiction, the more horrifying it is when they face danger, be it supernatural or realistic.
In the OCT13 post of this blog, there is a link to one of his stories “I Am Coming to Live In Your Mouth”, which concerns a Japanese immigrant named Kagome who is caring for her dying husband while trying to cope with his family and the weird specters that seem to be hanging around. It deals with grief and death and fear, as well as Kagome’s cultural predilection toward being submissive, and feels completely real even as the horror mounts. It’s a great example of what makes GH such a great writer–he can pull off tricky characterization without ever seeming “tricky”.
The above story can also be found in his latest collection, The Janus Tree and Other Stories, which is a cornucopia of awesome. The title story is one of my all-time favorites by him, concerning two troubled kids in a dying town and the HORRIBLE something they cross paths with. It won the inaugural Shirley Jackson Award in 2008, and deservedly so. Really, that whole book is great, but I also want to do a quick shout out for “You Become the Neighborhood”, a story that would stand on its own as a character-driven piece of literary fiction if it didn’t have an Overt Creepification Factor (OCF) of 3 billion. It involves lots of stuff, including the perils of revisiting the past, mental illness, neighborhood politics, and the “summer of spiders” (which I won’t ruin for you here). What a story!
You may be picking up on the fact that I’m kind of a Hirshberg geek. It’s true, but let me gush for a little longer because if you haven’t read him (or much by him) the book you oughta start with in my humble estimation is…
The Two Sams! This sucker is packed to its evil gills with great stories–including “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” (as mentioned above), “The Dancing Men”, “Struwwelpeter”, and “Shipwreck Beach”. Just the powerful combination of Mr. Dark and The Dancing Men makes this a horror classic in my mind.
Before wrapping this up, we should chat about his latest novel Motherless Child, published by TOR. It is a vampire story that brings the bloodsuckers back to the horrible monsters they SHOULD BE (I’m looking at you Stephenie Meyer!), a story about friendship, a road novel, and one of the more visceral depictions of the true depths of maternal devotion ever in a “genre” novel. It also happens to be funny and sexy and original, with a sub-theme about the importance of music in people’s lives, and it’s written with so much energy that pages fly by and almost give off sparks!
But, do you want to know what I love the MOST about this book? GH didn’t dumb down his style to go for a larger page count! Yahoo! For me that’s a minor miracle, as so many authors whose short stories I love seem to turn into flaccidly-paced Stephen King disciples when they start busting out novels. (By the King reference I don’t mean to disparage his work–it’s just that we only need one of him!).
Okay, I’m going to stop there. I’m no literary critic or learned academician, but I do know a thing or two about horror after almost 40 years of reading the stuff. One thing I can say with full confidence is that Glen Hirshberg belongs in the same league as Shirley Jackson, M.R. James, and Algernon Blackwood. And that is something I would NEVER say lightly…