Richard Leis's Reviews > The Dark Country

The Dark Country by Dennis Etchison
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it was amazing

5 stars for the craft alone.

And the content? I was expecting supernatural and creature horror, so I had to set aside my expectations right away. There is some of that, but most of these short stories delve into real-life horror more than fantasy. I guess many of these short stories might be considered noir, but I feel like noir is where these stories begin, but they end up full-on horror by their ambiguous or shocking or terrifyingly punctuated endings. Those punctuated endings are fascinating to me, because they made me feel like the story had ended too soon, but right at the height of the horror, which is a shocking but especially resonate place for the reader to be left by the writer. That's also great craft.

I love lists in a story, so I really enjoyed the fitting parataxis Dennis Etchison included in many of these stories. For example, when describing bugs on a windshield: "essence of honeybee, wasp, dragonfly, mayfly, June bug, lady bug and the like." This is all part of Etchison's constant attention to detail in these stories, and exactly the right details. His stories are dripping with mood and specific details, even when I don't quite understand what is going on (there are a few stories that were a little opaque to me.) I also paid attention to the metaphors and similes, because they always seemed perfect for that very moment in the story: "The river smelled like dead stars."

I loved every story (even those I didn't quite get.) The first two stories—"It Only Comes Out at Night" and "Sitting in the Corner, Whimpering Quietly"—taught me how to read Etchison's work and prepared me in some ways for what was to come later in the collection. These stories had great, I-need-to-set-this-book-down-right-now-to-freak-out endings. I didn't quite get "The Walking Man" and "We Have All Been Here Before," but, wow, did those stories get under my skin. There's a strange trilogy of organ donor stories with science fiction elements that work really well together but left me curious if Etchison had something against organ donations. "The Nighthawk" with its child protagonist and weirdly astute persona narrator is almost fairy-tale-esque. And the final story, "The Dark Country," comments in uncomfortably apt ways about privilege and racism that feel absolutely timely.

I only heard of Etchison and his work recently, in the context of how overlooked this master of short stories and horror was throughout his career. I'm glad to be a fan now and sorry that it happened only after his recent death. I look forward to reading all of his work, including rereading this collection someday soon.
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Reading Progress

December 30, 2019 – Started Reading
December 30, 2019 – Shelved
January 4, 2020 – Finished Reading

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