The New Black edited by Richard Thomas (Dark House Press, May 13th, 2014)-What stands out immediately about this outstanding collection of dark fiction, is the contributor list. Suspense fans will see many familiar faces, but so will fans of dark fantasy. I don’t know how you read short story anthologies, but I happened to read this one in order, and I can tell you, it worked.
Stephen Graham Jones is well known for his work in horror, and puts his talent to fine use in “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit”. If you’re a parent, this story of how far a father goes to protect his son may actually make you burst into tears, like I did, but boy is it good… So, yes, Richard Thomas may have a little bit of a sadistic streak starting out with that one, but it certainly puts you in the correct mindset as to what’s to come.
I already established that Stephen Graham Jones’s story is a humdinger, and so is Lindsay Hunter’s “That Baby.” This one is told in a very matter of fact tone that somehow makes the horror of it that much more resonant.
The knock-out (in more ways than one) “Rust and Bone” by Craig Davidson, about an aging boxer and the tragedy that drives him, is fabulous, and makes me ashamed that I haven’t yet picked up everything that Davidson has written. I plan to remedy that, though. If you dig Frank Bill’s work (which I very much do), you’ll love this one. This is flawless stuff.
Paul Tremblay horrifies with a more insidious touch in his story about a family quietly and desperately trying to keep it together while the world falls apart around them in “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks”.
Roxane Gay spins a strangely hopeful story with “How”, about a woman who longs to escape the confines of her current life and quietly sets about doing just that. You’ll want to keep an eye out for her upcoming book An Untamed State in May.
Craig Clevenger’s “Act of Contrition” is a queasy, slightly surreal little chiller and“The Etiquette of Homicide” by Tara Laskowski is a nifty little handbook on the how-to of murder.
“Fuzzyland” by Richard Lange is one of my favorites and explores the bonds of family and the aftermath of tragedy with a noir touch. I wasn’t surprised that I liked this one so much, since Angel Baby was one of my favorite suspense reads of 2013.
“His Footsteps are Made of Soot” by Nik Korpon, is about a young man that desperately wants to forget a dark part of his past and goes about doing so in a very creepy way, and Joe Meno’s “Children Are the Only Ones Who Blush” is a slightly strange little story about individuality and its pitfalls, and is another oddly hopeful tale.
Matt Bell, author of In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (which got raves) serves up another of my favorites, “Dredge”, about a very damaged man’s attempt to find a young girl’s killer, is both grotesque and very, very sad. It will stay with you for quite a while after you finish. Bell is astonishingly good at imagery, and it shows in very disturbing ways. This is one of those that, while reading, you’ve got to let yourself look beyond the horror to the achingly sad story beneath.
“Dollhouse” by Craig Wallwork and “Windeye” by Brian Evenson are throwbacks to old fashioned horror and they’re both spectacular, and spectacularly creepy, but in different ways. We all know that dolls are creepy, and Wallwork mines that theme for all it’s worth.
“The Familiars” by Micaela Morrissette, is another story, about a young boy and his “imaginary” friend, that sits pretty firmly in horror territory while infusing a rather delicate beauty, and sense of the fantastic, throughout. It’s also one that, if you’re a parent, will touch you and make you pause a bit.
“Dialtone” by Benjamin Percy (Red Moon) shows that he can crack the whip with a short story with the same finesse that he handles full length horror and explores the drudgery of faceless cubicle hell, and well, murder.
Antonia Crane’s “Sunshine for Adrienne” is another stunner that explores the making of an addict, and the loss of innocence. It horrifies and lances at the heart in equal measure. “Blue Hawaii” by Rebecca Jones-Howe is also a story of addiction, but with a more quick and dirty delivery.
Vanessa Veselka’s “Christopher Hitchens” is a strange and subtle story about the nature of faith and a mother’s love, and another one of my favorites.
Kyle Minor’s “The Truth in all its Ugly” broke my heart in two brittle little pieces and is a sad and startlingly lovely ode to a parent’s love, with an SF twist. This one sneaks up on you, so watch out.
“Instituto” by Roy Kessey is about a man pursuing a certain kind of perfection, but doesn’t quite get what he hopes for. This one is where heartache, desperation, and institutional dread intersect, and it’s extremely effective.
Well, there you have it. There is something in The New Black for just about everyone, and if you’ve ever been curious about any of these authors, it’s a great way to sample what they have to offer, which is considerable. Don’t be surprised if, after reading this, you find yourself scrambling to stock up on everything by these authors that you can possibly get your hands on. Rarely have I read a collection that I’ve enjoyed every one of the stories, but I did with this one, and it’s a must read for fans of dark fiction of any stripe.