Since this is a review of a horror anthology, I’m going to run with that theme and say August has come from one of the circles of Hell. Just which one, I’m not sure. I need to brush up on my Dante. I finished this book two (three?) weeks ago, and I’m just now getting a relatively quiet and uninterrupted moment when I’m not too wiped out to put coherent sentences together. (The previous post doesn’t count. A careful reading will show I wasn’t in a good mood, and I don’t write reviews when I’m
cranky crankier than usual.) The only part of the process that went the way it should was requesting the book and the quick response. Thanks to Brianna Scharfenberg of Night Shade Books. Delays in reading the book and posting the review are entirely mine.
Datlow is one of the most accomplished editors in the field. I know that any project, whether reprint or original, will have a top-notch selection of stories. That’s the case here. Not every story was to my taste, but then I don’t expect them to. The only anthology that will be completely to my taste will be one I’ve edited, and maybe not even then.
I’m going to hit the high points for me. YMMV. “Slaughtered Lamb” by Tom Johnstone tells the tale of a young man who travels with a theater group and discovers that radical politics and the arts can be a dangerous combination. Laird Barron is one of the best horror writers today. “In a Cavern, in a Canyon” was my favorite story in the anthology. Barron is from Alaska, the setting of this tale of a woman who learns that some hunters in the woods can be very patient.
Speaking of hunters, Dale Bailey’s apocalyptic tale of two couples who come down from the mountains isn’t the most original idea in the book, but then the argument can be made that there are no original ideas, only original executions. This one was short and sharp. Going back on story, Steve Rasnic Tem tells the tale of a man who returns to the rundown beachside motel where his family vacationed when he was a child and discovers something “Between the Pilings”. This was my second favorite story in the anthology, and I would have difficulty saying whose body of work I preferred, Tem’s or Barron’s.
“Indian Giver” by Ray Cluley is a grisly weird western that pulled me in, while Gary McMahon’s “My Boy Builds Coffins” is a story about a child who builds small coffins as gifts to his parents and taps into parental fears for their children quite effectively. If you like edgy and disturbing, the “Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma will…get under your skin. I found this one quiet effective, if not exactly my flagon of ale. “Descent” by Carmen Maria Machado had the most effective final line of all the stories in the book. The final story, “The Stagnant Breath of Change” by Brian Hodge, had echoes of Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life”, but with a Lovecraftian twist.
In fact, that was one of the things that made this anthology work for me. Datlow has a deep love and respect for Lovecraft, and it shows in her selections. Several of them had Lovecraftian elements. All of the stories are top-notch, though, whether they have anything to do with HPL. In scanning back over them as I was writing the above paragraphs, I was struck by how many of the stories I really liked. Narrowing my list was harder than I thought it would be.
Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year series is one of the best investments you can make in short fiction. The current volume is no exception. Check it out.
Paula Guran’s anthology collecting the dark fantasy and horror is in the stack. I’ll review it, at the rate I’m going hopefully before the Sun burns out, and post a comparison here.