TWO FAVORITE DEBUT COLLECTIONS
I read a lot of amazing short fiction in the past year, and continue to be amazed by how much good stuff is out there right now. If you like being creeped out, it’s a new golden age…
I’ll be talking specifically about a few other collections and anthologies later in the month, but there are two debut collections that I want to call out as must owns for any serious fan of short horror prose: BEHOLD THE VOID by Phillip Fracassi, and THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM by John Padgett.
The best way to describe BEHOLD THE VOID, for me, is that the eight stories and one novella contained within are full of danger. Yes, most effective horror has a vibe of thrilling danger to it—it’s one of the hallmarks of the literary mode, for crying out loud. However, with Mr. Fracassi’s stories, the danger is much more pronounced, as in, NO ONE IS SAFE.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the complete knockout second story “Altar”, which concerns a particulary BAD, swelteringly hot day at a crowded public pool. I won’t give anything away, plotwise, but this story is VICIOUS. The character development is swift and effective, and when things take a turn for the horrifying, it happens fast and nasty and with such force your head reels.
Story upon story in this brief collection, the author goes for danger and unpredictability. The closest I came to guessing what was going to happen was in the first story, the semi-Ligottian “Soft Construction of a Sunset”, but from then on there’s a palpable sense of dread marbling the stories, which is quite unique. What will happen next?!
The final novella, “Mandala”, exploits this effect to the billionth degree. By the time you get to it, you are prepared for the worst—so when he weaves together a plot that sets a bunch of VERY likable characters on a course for disaster, it feels heavy as eff. I was totally wrung out by the end of “Mandala” and consider it one of the finest, most cinematic tales I’ve read all year.
THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM by John Padgett is a different beast altogether. Where Fracassi is a master of pace and visual writing (he’s a screenwriter ontop of his prose work), Padgett’s stuff is like drinking directly from the well of Nightmare itself. I was just KILLED by this collection, from the first piece, “The Mindfulness of Horror Practice”, which acts as a guided meditation on existential horror and tees you up for the madness to come; through to the final story “Escape to Thin Mountain”.
There is a surreal dread infusing every moment of this book, which reminds me of Ligotti (once again), but has a wider pallet of emotion and effect. Each story builds on the ones before it, which is unnerving and adds to the nightmarish quality.
The Indoor Swamp. It’s a ride you can’t miss… no matter how terribly you wish you could. – from “The Indoor Swamp” by John Padgett
“The Indoor Swamp” is a stand out, and an example of Padgett’s ability to weave a story without traditional elements like character and plot (really!). But, damn is it effective!
Mr. Padgett experiments throughout with form and genre, to a stunning degree. This is easily the most original collection I’ve read in a long time, and one most up for re-reading. Check this sucker out, you won’t be disappointed…