Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 84 -- What the Dark Brings

by Edward Lorn

Started: Oct. 5
Finished: Oct. 9

Amazon link: What the Dark Brings

Notes: One of the somewhat unexpected benefits to being a writer is that from time to time you get to read material that is not yet available to the general public. This is one of those instances for me. I've read some of Edward Lorn's work before, and enjoyed it immensely. For the most part, he seems to be a horror writer (I say "for the most part" because I don't know if Edward has plans to write in other genres or not, or if he already does so under a pen name). One night recently I was on Facebook and Edward had posted the cover for his next book, which you can see at the right. I "liked" the image and within a matter of seconds Edward sent me a message asking if I would like to read the book before it came out. Of course I would. I'd LOVE to read the book, especially since I enjoy Edward's writing and I love short horror stories. I'm not sure when this collection of horror tales will be available for readers, but when I find out, I'll make sure to post it here. Until then, (in singsong voice) I get to read it, and you don't! Nyah nyah!

Mini review: This review I'm doing a little different than most. I'm going to take each story as it comes to me and write a little about my impressions, but I'll try to do so without giving any of the plots away.

The first story, "Literary Sweets," I found an interesting choice to begin a collection of horror tales. It is horror, but only barely, dipping into fantasy or almost magical realism. It's a tale that could have been much more horrific, but instead turns toward a sense of wonder that does the story justice. Start with a glass of Ray Bradbury, toss in a shot of Stephen King, then add just a dollop of Charles Dickens, and you've got this story.

It would be easy to label the second story, "A Friendly Reminder," as a drug addiction story, but I believe that is an oversimplification. Oh, there's plenty of nightmarish drug resonance here, but at its deepest core I believe this is a tender story about friendship and, perhaps, what with the mention of a church and then an opening quote by C.S. Lewis, about spirituality. Only two stories in, and so far I have to admit to being surprised. These are somewhat literary stories and not overly dark for a horror collection, in my opinion, but I do not mean that as a criticism; if anything, having read only one earlier novel by this author, these stories show this writer has not only stories to tell, but stories with meaning.

The third story, "The Southbound Triple-Six," I find difficult to discuss without giving away anything, but I will say its basic theme is one I've found familiar among horror short story writers. It seems this type of story is a staple, one many writers tackle at least once in their career, kind of like stranded astronaut tales are common among some science fiction authors. Here, however, there are some nice changes from other such, similar stories, with a nod to Dante and an ending with some dark humor.

"The Monitor" is a touching story that creeps up on you, though it's not necessarily a creepy story in and of itself. This is a quick read, almost flash fiction, but that makes it work all the better, for to linger would be to derive this little tale of its magic.

"Nothing is Out There to Get You" is another story difficult to talk about without giving away too much. I'll simply say that this story leads the reader along a path with strong shades of Spielberg's Jaws, yet ends up in an unexpected place. This is not a twist ending here, but still one somewhat different than most horror tales, with an element of added humor.

During a review of one of this author's novels, I gave his work a label of being "Stephen King lite," and I meant that in a positive fashion. The plot and characters of that novel reminded me somewhat of King's work, yet Lorn's writing was more to the point and less wordy than that of King, all positives as far as I was concerned. Yet while reading this collection of short stories, I had seen different styles not so reminiscent of King. That is until now, the story "Up on the Rooftop." This tale is the first I think of as true horror in this collection, meaning it's dark and has some gore. The interesting thing about the gore I mentioned is that most of it is in the reader's mind. There's actually very little true gore in the story itself, but the imagery lets the reader know what is going on while also allowing the reader's mind to imagine the worst. This story is another that contains themes similar to what I've seen other horror writers tackle, but here there is definitely a difference, that being the imagery I mentioned. It's difficult to describe without spilling the beans (so to speak), but there's a level of genius here in the writing that puts images in the reader's head, but images that are not actually on the written page (or digital screen). So, bravo to the writer.

"A Purchase of Titanic Proportions" is another tale I think of as King-esque. As always, however, Lorn keeps his prose from rambling and rambling, which King is wont to do from time to time. Still, this is a short horror tale that gets to the point, something I quite enjoy instead of meandering about. The theme here, even the basic plot, should be one familiar to horror literature fans, but what Lorn does with this story is unlike anything I've seen before. He takes a basic idea and plays with it, builds upon it until the reader has something fresh and new.

Wow. Just ... wow. So far, I have to say "The Land of Her" is the strongest of these tales. It opens in a fantasy world besieged by evil, yet it ultimately travels ... elsewhere. To say more would be to ruin the story for others. All I'll add is that, and this might be a spoiler, but whether the author meant it or not, there are shades of the Pearl Jam song "Jeremy" within this tale.

As a writer myself, I sometimes feel like readers don't make enough use of their own imagination. They sometimes seem to want everything spelled out for them. While there's nothing wrong with such in and of itself, as a reader, I sometimes want to be challenged, to be given only enough information to allow my own imagination to run wild. In horror, such can be more horrifying than what any writer actually puts on a page. "What the Dark Brings" is a story that does this, allows the reader's imagination to work for itself. This story is quite short and to the point, with just enough to tease the reader with what is going on. Then along comes a dark, somewhat humorous ending. I like that.

"That Thing About a Picture and a Thousand Words" walks a fine balancing act between the spooky and the merely strange. This is another tale that gets right to the point, which I appreciate. That being said, this is probably my least favorite story in this collection so far. It's not that it's a bad story, because it is written well, but I felt almost from the first paragraph that I knew where this story was going.

Then along comes "Smitten." While by no means a laugh-out-loud kind of story, I did find it quite amusing, perhaps because of the use of a Southern dialect. Being a native Kentuckian, and having spent almost all my life in the South or Appalachia and/or in or near rural areas, and being a writer, I feel I've got a pretty good reader's ear for Southern dialects (there are thousands of them, by the way, for those who don't know ... that could be a blog post of its own). Here, Lorn pulls of the dialect pretty well, better than most. There were one or two verbal cliches that made me cringe a little, but that's because they are cliches, and because, despite being cliches ... yeah, I've actually heard people say those things at one time or another. For my money, "Smitten" is also the best plotted story in this collection so far, but I felt it ended far too abruptly, leaving me wanting more. Without going into details, this story takes a fairly standard (but mostly modern) horror trope and gives it the author's own spin, which was one I found so fascinating that I would love to see a whole novel in a similar vein.

A lot of these stories have been fairly straight forward, though a handful are somewhat thoughtful. "Machinations" stands out as being the most philosophical so far. At first it might seem to be fairly standard horror, but if one pays attention there is a lot more going on here, at least in my opinion. Look deep.

"He Who Laughs Last" isn't exactly a zombie story, but it sort of is. That being said, it's the most unique zombie-like story I've read in a long while, enough so to make me a little jealous as a writer.

Everybody has been to the county fair and been spooked at the sideshows, right? "The Attraction" takes you there and beyond, and while I wouldn't claim the conclusion is exactly a twist ending, it's definitely unexpected (at least it was by me) and I found somewhat humorous.

"He's Got Issues" has probably the most pithy of all the titles in this collection. Reading along, it took me a little while, but then I caught on to the double meaning. The story itself is fairly standard horror fare, but it's funny in its own way, or else I'm just a sick person who likes to giggle when really bad things happen to story characters. It would seem a certain '80s movie influenced this tale, but I won't go into what it is, for the very name of the movie would give much away here, though I think most will recognize it.

Short. Sweet. Brutal. That's "Sissy." The story raises a lot of questions without providing very many answers. Some readers might gripe about that. I'm not one of them. I loved it.

As for physical carnage, "Holes" is probably the most disturbing of these tales. It hits hard and fast, and gives a different kind of view into drug addiction.

"The Kissing Booth" is one of those stories that takes you in one direction before you realize you're not headed where you thought you were. Often enough I don't care for these kind of tales, feeling betrayed by the writer, but I have to say, it worked here. Why? Some faint foreshadowing early in the tale helps a lot, something too many writers seem to ignore. Not here.

Readers who hold strongly to their religious convictions probably shouldn't read "Come to Jesus Meeting." I wasn't personally offended, but the overtones of religious oppression and the backlash against it are impossible to ignore. In many ways I felt this was one of the strongest of these stories, at least concerning structure and character, probably because it is a longer than many of the tales here, leaving a little room for extra development.

Looking back over this collection, I have to say there is a lot to recommend it. There are some staple horror tropes as well as enough new and unusual ideas to keep the interest of most readers. Fans of writers such as Stephen King and Richard Laymon will feel right at home. However, fans of horror literature who like the overly gory or existential might not be as interested in this material, because these aren't blood-bath reads nor tales that leave one without a sense of hope.

One of my favorite elements of all these stories is that they are not overly long and they get to the point. The reader doesn't have to wade through some character's emotions for page after page, nor have to follow thousands upon thousands of words of back story or philosophical rambling. Little of that is here. None of these stories start slow, and they belt you in the gut soon.

If I had one point to be critical about, it would be that I felt a few of these tales ended a little too soon. It might seem I'm contradicting myself here, but I do not mean to suggest any of the writing here should have included more pages of material. A paragraph or two would have sufficed in most cases. In a few of the tales, I was reading along quite happily, ensconced in the world of the story, when bam! Everything comes to a screeching end. Sometimes this works, but other times I wanted more.

Over all, these are excellent horror tales, some amusing, some that might keep you up late at night afraid to go to bed, some that will make you think. The author has done himself proud.


EdwardLorn said...

I'm beyond words. Thank you, Ty. When I find some more words, you'll be the first to know.

Hell of a review!

Charles Gramlich said...

Cool. It is nice to get an early heads up on some good stuff. I get freebies about this time of year because of being a member of HWA. Need more time to read them, though.

the happy horror writer said...

Thanks for increasing my excitement about reading this without spoiling any of the stories. I know that is not an easy thing to do when writing reviews. I'm especially intrigued by the comment that "What the Dark Brings" is a story that ... allows the reader's imagination to work for itself." I believe Lorn can pull this sort of thing off, and as a writer hoping to learn, I'm interested to see how. As a reader, all of these stories sound great!