Just when I think I’ve already discovered every fantastic writer I’m ever going to love, along comes someone like Brian Evenson. To be fair, he’s been doing this whole writing thing for quite some time now, but his work is new to me. Better late than never, because I’m hooked on this short story collection and, like a freshly converted heroin addict, now I need more.
The easiest way to describe the stories in this book would be “literary horror.” However, even that somewhat broad description seems somewhat limiting for Evenson’s work. I hate to use the term “elevated genre,” because that implies other contributions to the genre are less worthy (which may be true in some cases, but ultimately this is not an opinion I stand behind). However, if ever this term has been appropriate, it’s for a book like this. These stories often go to some very dark places, but from a different angle than the average writer might approach them. I can’t easily pinpoint what makes them so horrific. Evenson feels no need to over-explain anything. The worlds he creates are as they are. And what they are is some varying degree of wrong. It’s that little bit of something “off” that sticks with me after reading each story, leaving me wondering what might be flawed in our own world. Well, what else might be flawed, rather. It is as if the gruesomeness of our reality has been twisted ever-so-slightly into the reality that Evenson envisions, so much so that the lines between fact and fiction can become blurred if the reader allows such a transgression. I don’t truly feel scared until after completing each story, like having a nightmare that was quickly forgotten at daybreak, but then remembered when alone in a public restroom located in a no-name town off a deserted highway. How else can I describe my reaction to the final scene of “Black Bark,” or the entirety of “Seaside Town”? All of the tales are filled with despair, lost acuity, indecision, beautiful dark emptiness, or some combination.
Evenson’s prose has a minimalist feel, but it is crafted in a somewhat poetic manner that manages to avoid pretension (a difficult feat that many so-called “literary” writers fail miserably at). Not a word wasted, and his cadence and many of his chosen beats are stunning. I was often left wondering what actually transpired, but I was completely content with that because the subtleties are what make these stories so raw and unsettling.
Very rarely do I describe authors as “brilliant,” even those whose work I adore dearly. However, I think Evenson might be worthy of such a title. These are stories that should be remembered a hundred years from now, required reading for anyone seeking the cream of the crop from this era of dark fiction.