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Old April 15 2008, 12:44 AM   #121
Brendan Moody
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Location: Maine
Re: Let's Talk About Horror Fiction

It was an collection of excellent stories in the many varieties of modern horror. Which, given my rather limited and idiosyncratic tastes, means that there were only a few stories I really loved, but even the ones that didn't do much for me were usually well-constructed and original. Here's a review of it I wrote for LibraryThing:
I bought this book principally because it has a Glen Hirshberg story in it. Hirshberg is perhaps the best modern writer of ghost stories that I've encountered, and I'm interested in anything he's written. But there were other reasons as well. There's a story by Joyce Carol Oates, whose work I very much admire, and of course Ellen Datlow has a sterling reputation as an editor of horror fiction. Plus the guiding principle behind the anthology (stories that are so frightening they induce a physical response) was promising.

Overall, I'd say this is a strong anthology. No story in it is anything less than satisfactory, and there are a few real standouts. If in the end there were fewer stories that bowled me over than I might have hoped for, that probably has more to do with my idiosyncratic tastes than with any defect in the work.

I'm not going to comment on each individual story, since some of them inspired no particular reaction in me; instead, I'll pick out a few I admired and talk about why I responded to them.

Stephen Gallagher's "Misadventure" is a fairly traditional ghost story with an unusual setting and bit of a twist centered on the tale's narrator. I won't say more than that about the plot, but Gallagher's simple yet elegant prose is perfect for the mode in which he's working, and this is one of only a few stories that elicited a physical response from me. Well-done.

I see in researching Laird Barron that he is known for fiction that is Lovecraftian and uniquely modern. That's certainly the case with "The Forest," a story of mysterious scientific research in a secluded wooded area. The protagonist's unresolved romantic tension with a terminally ill friend contributes to the atmosphere of mystery and uncertainty that pervades the tale, and leads up to its shattering conclusion. Great prose here, unnerving and distinctive. Probably my second favorite in the collection.

"The Monsters of Heaven"- not what I would call horror (as if anyone can define the genre usefully), but a moving dark fantasy about the nature of grief.

"13 O'Clock"- a subtle and affecting story in which a father's overpowering love provides the basis for a series of eerie encounters that may or not have some unknown menace behind them.

"An Apiary of White Bees"- mysterious liquor with disturbing side effects and a protagonist with a damaging past. Not a favorite of mine, but definitely an accomplished story.

"The Janus Tree" is Glen Hirshberg's contribution, and it's another masterpiece. A decaying mining town provides the basis for some marvelous descriptions of a unbelievable yet real landscape and a couple deformed characters, but the story is truly about childhood and family, with a vintage Hirshberg ending.

Would I recommend Inferno? The thing about anthologies like this one is that they're so diverse you're sure to love some stories and hate others. Don't go in expecting every piece to amaze you- the collection that can do that is a rare and wonderful thing, and while this might be it for you it also might not. But if you want to get a sense of the shape of modern short horror fiction, give this a try.
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