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**spoiler alert** Langan presents a collection of horror stories, ranging in topic from cannibal children to space vampires. It's kind of tedious to g**spoiler alert** Langan presents a collection of horror stories, ranging in topic from cannibal children to space vampires. It's kind of tedious to go through all nine stories in a blow-by-blow fashion, so I'll quickly mention one that I didn't like, one that I liked something about, and my favorite. Kids, in which a school teacher is devoured by a random bunch of feral children, is more a scene than a story. Langan's story notes explain it was part of a series of stories a group of horror writers wrote to honor a friend, in which he died in every story. That origin explains the somewhat haphazard feel the story has to it--it was originally intended for an audience that was on the know. I liked June, 1987. Hitchhiking. Mr. Norris.--it's basically a story of a hitchhiker who gets kidnapped to be used as a sacrifice, and what he has to do to get free. Compared to a lot of the other stories, it's pretty simple in concept, but I like the classic, bare bones sort of thing it does. I loved the Revel--its deep dive approach into the format of a werewolf monster story is very effective and affecting, presenting the setup and characters in short sketches. Langan does a great job of making it seem almost game-like, but still scary, even haunting, by the story's end.
As is the trend in much of modern horror, many of the stories have some layer of meta-awareness, some twist that draws attention to medium. Revel, as stated, is presented as an outline or sketch of a werewolf story. Mother of Stone is technically straightforward, except for being told in second person. Technicolor is presented as a lecture from university instructor (which makes me think twice about lectures in my own past!) and How the Day Runs Down appears as the script for a play, with a stage master serving as a sort of gatekeeper for the purgatory of a zombie invasion. It would be easy for the form to overwhelm the story in these sorts of experiments, but Langan makes them work.
In large part, he makes them work because, in all stories, character takes precedent over horror. In fact, for most of them, the exact circumstances of the horror is an allegorical way for the characters to explore their own limitations or emotional losses. The woman in Mother of Stone is looking for purpose after the dissolution of their marriage; City of the Dog is about someone who takes their own measure and finds themselves lacking; even Technicolor suggests that its sinister speaker is coping with the death of a loved one. Every story has a person in it that anchors the story as more than just some schlocky horror.
In short--a fun collection. Just the sort of thing I wanted to be reading around Halloween....more