September 21, 2013 by Laird
Nathan Ballingrud’s debut collection, North American Lake Monsters, has arrived. John Langan’s excellent LA Review of Books piece covers a lot of territory, so I’ll content myself with a handful of comments.
One thing we must talk about when we talk about Nathan Ballingrud is his felicity with language. The rough and tumble of his narratives is apprehended in the often laconic and deceptively relaxed cadences of a Dan Chaon or a Larry Brown. His exquisite renderings of body horror suggest a connection to Clive Barker. Ballingrud is a prose poet who operates at a level rarely encountered in genre, much less horror’s neck of the woods. His poetry is in keeping with the great North American tradition–it is not wrong that Langan assigns Ballingrud a slot in the ever accreting fossil record that has claimed the likes of Carver and Hemingway.
The collection is a raw read. It resonates mostly at the naturalistic end of the scale despite the presence of angels, vampires, werewolves, and ghouls. Yet at the center of it, down in the darkness, the blood, and inhumanity, beats the heart of a humane man. Seldom has the paradox of human resiliance and fragility been so brilliantly reconciled. Ballingrud’s characters are uniformly at odds with themselves, hell bent upon transformation from whatever they are into some desired, or dreaded, configuration–story after story touches upon this theme of transfiguration, whether it occurs via brute force or brutish consumption, catharsis of spirit, or an actual physical rebirth. One can’t help but feel the author shares his characters’ existential anguish, the incohate and urgent desire to claw through the amniotic sac, to crack the shell from within and emerge into some new, cleaner light.