Category Archives: Al Sarrantonio

A Visit to Orangefield on Hallow’s Eve

Hallow’s Eve
Al Sarrantonio
mass market paperback, Leisure, 2004
Kindle edition $3.99

Al Sarrantonio’s work had been favorably compared to that of Ray Bradbury.  I suspect part (but not all) of the reason is that like Bradbury, much of Sarrantonio’s work deals with October in general and Halloween in particular.

And a great deal of that work is set in the fictional town of Orangefield, self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World.  Hallow’s Eve is the second volume of a trilogy.  The first volume, Orangefield, was published as limited edition by a small press, and as far as I know, never had a mass market edition. 

You don’t need to have read that volume to enjoy this one, however.  I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the story, although I knew enough about the events in that novel and previous short stories to recognize some of the references. 

Frankly, there wasn’t that much to keep track of.  The plot is pretty simple, and some of the subplots obviously carry over from what came before.  Corrie Phaeder has returned home to Orangefield after a dozen years away.  As a boy, his dreams invaded his waking world, and things would change without warning.  When he left, his mother had recently been murdered, and he had been the prime suspect, at least in the eyes of police detective Grant.  Before everything is over, Grant, along with a neighbor girl, will become Phaeder’s ally in a battle against Samhain, the Lord of Death.

This isn’t the best horror novel I’ve ever read.  The events that brought Phaeder back to Orangefield are lightly sketched, so that his homecoming feels somewhat contrived.  I didn’t find much about it that was scary, although the scene towards the end where the pumpkin men attack Grant in a deserted farmhouse while he’s trying to protect Phaeder and the girl was great. 

What does work is the atmosphere.  Sarrantonio does an excellent job of setting the mood, and Orangefield sounds like a nice place to live if it weren’t for the Lord of Death constantly stirring things up.  The book was by turns creepy, pastoral, and mildly suspenseful, but never really scary.

This is the only novel of Sarrantonio’s I’ve read, and based on this reading, I would say his strength lies more at short lengths than with the novel.  There’s a final volume in this series, Halloweenland, in which a carnival arrives in Orangefield.  Frankly, that trope appeals more to me than the walking scarecrow and the pumpkin men from Hallow’s Eve, although I do enjoy a good ambulatory scarecrow.  I might read it before Halloween, but given the way the last few weeks have gone, I’ll probably save it for next year.

Hallow’s Eve isn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be.  Still, it was a pleasant way to pass a few hours and is quite appropriate to the season.

A Couple of Halloween Themed Anthologies

Halloween
Paula Guran, ed.
Prime Books
trade paper, 480 p., $14.95
ebook, $6.99 Kindle, Nook

This one came out last year, and I’ve only read a few of the stories in it.  Nor do I plan to read all of them, at least not this year.  I’ll take my time with this one and spread it out over several years.  In other words, this is more of an FYI post than a full-on review.  However, I’ve been impressed enough by the contents so far to feel I should bring this one to your attention.

First of all, this is a reprint anthology, and there is one difference between the print and electronic editions.  That’s the inclusion of Ray Bradbury’s “The Halloween Game”, which isn’t in the electronic edition.  Now if you recall, I have a very high regard for Bradbury, but I wish he hadn’t been so stubborn about electronic rights. “The Halloween Game” is a story that deserves to be in this book.

Even without Bradbury’s contribution, the table of contents is impressive.  The stories I’ve read include “Night Out” by Tina Rath and “On a Dark October” by Joe Lansdale.  Both are worth the read.  I”ll dip into this one again, at least to reread “Hornets” by Al Sarrantonio, which takes place in his fictional town of Orangefield.  I’ve just started reading one of the Orangefield novels, and it makes reference to the events in “Hornets”.

October Dreams
Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish, ed.
Roc
trade paper, 656 p., oop, various prices second hand

This one came out ten years ago (I think there was an earlier limited edition), and it’s been almost that long since I read it.  It contains a mix of memoir, reprint, and what at the time was new.  I don’t remember all of the stories well enough to try to do a full review, but this is one anthology I intend to revisit, something that doesn’t happen with much of what I read.  I probably won’t get to it this year since the library is still in a state of disarray since the move, but I recommend this book if you come across a copy or want to order it online.   It’s got some great stories in it.  Like Halloween, this is another anthology that’s perfect for dipping into on a evening when there’s a nip in the air and you’re not sure if the sound you hear is a branch scraping against the window in the wind or something else.