December 12, 2013 by Laird
To mark the US release of Allyson Bird’s Bull Running for Girls, here is a review I did of the first edition back in 2008. Congratulations to Ally on this new issue of her award-winning collection.
I recently got my tentacles on Allyson Bird’s forthcoming debut collection Bull Running For Girls. Mine is an e-copy, but the actual artifact promises to be quite handsome. The book is comprised of sixteen original stories and five reprints. Bird’s classical influences are evident; her pieces owe much to the likes of Poe, Le Fanu, Machen, and Jackson — as much is referenced throughout her narratives and the excerpts preceding each tale.
Bird exhibits a fascination with regional legends, fairy tales, and ghosts. Her renovation of traditional weird tropes reminds me of Matt Cardin, Mark Samuels, and Don Tumasonis — contemporary authors who cleave to the classical vein without resorting to pastiche. The Tumasonis comparison may be the most striking in that he and Bird seem chiefly concerned with a quiet, almost prosaic type of horror; the horror of psychological dislocation and alienation. Tumasonis demonstrates this most profoundly when examining relationships between the protagonist and his/her significant other, and the isolation experienced by the protagonist as a stranger in a strange land. While Bird similarly gives us a veritable travelogue of settings and a substantial dose of supernatural intrusion, her protagonists are often most thoroughly afflicted by personal demons, as much victims of their own pathology as they are of external forces, becoming, like as not, strangers in their own skin.
Altogether, Bird’s writing is strong, her instincts sharp. These qualities are exemplified by the titular story; the eerie and chilling “Shadow Upon Shadow,” which possesses a singularly creepy scene (you’ll know it when you see it!); the Bradbury-esque “The Conical Witch”; and “Pompeii,” a grim and surreal piece regarding the superimposition of the ancient world over its modern counterpart to catastrophic effect. However, my favorite was “The Caul Bearer” with its spooky premise and not-so subtle nod to Lovecraft.
Admittedly, there are a few rough edges. Several pieces are much weaker than the core stories and would’ve benefited from tougher editing to smooth awkward phrasing. A couple of stories feel rushed; in another instance a coda is unnecessary and its presence nearly undermines the dramatic tension so artfully maintained prior to that moment. Certainly these are distractions, but they’re overshadowed by Bird’s prowess as a storyteller, her knack for dialing in on a starkly vivid bit of imagery at precisely the right moment. This is very good work by a new author.
There’s a great deal to love about Bull Running For Girls, not the least of this being its promise that we’ve only seen the beginning of a remarkable career.