November 9, 2014 by Laird
Digging through old files, I came across this bit I wrote for the Ingram Library at West Georgia University a few years ago:
1. Dark Gods T.E.D. Klein _______________________________________________________
Marathon Man William Goldman
The Ronin William Dale Jennings
Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy
The Dark Descent: The Colour of Evil David G. Hartwell, ed.
The Missing Sarah Langan _______________________________________________________
A Prayer For The Dying Stewart O’Nan _______________________________________________________
Koko Peter Straub
USE ONCE, THEN DESTROY Conrad Williams
Selected Poems (1963-1983) Charles Simic
Comments/reviews/recommendations for the collection:
DARK GODS: A seminal collection of four dark fantasy novellas epitomizing all that was excellent with 1980s horror. Klein, former editor of TWILIGHT ZONE MAGAZINE is a master of creeping dread, of quiet, cerebral horror, requiring nary a drop of blood to nail home his point. One of the smoothest wordsmiths in the business, his knack with observed detail is astounding. His talent is certainly on par with the likes of Straub and Updike. Of especial merit: “Petey,” and “Black Man with a Horn,” this latter an homage to H.P. Lovecraft.
MARATHON MAN: One of my favorite 1970s action novels, a cloak and dagger spectacular replete with assassins, crooked spies and one of the great villains in all of literature: Szell, the demon dentist….I devoured this book as teen and must credit Goldman’s masterpiece, his work in general, as a significant inspiration of mine.
THE RONIN: This short novel follows the path of a brutal, ruthless Ronin at work and play in Feudal Japan. The Ronin himself is an exemplar of the antihero, a man you’ll find yourself pulling for despite his vicious and amoral ethos as he bulldozes his way through the tale. Much more complex than its rude, crude and graphic subject matter would suggest, I’ve revisited this novel on numerous occasions, emerging with an understanding of some new, often wry, subtlety on each occasion. Truly, Jennings has wrought a bawdy classic.
BLOOD MERIDIAN: McCarthy’s blood-soaked epic ranks among the greatest American novels; it rumbles and thunders with the dark majesty of the Old Testament, a nightmare writ large on the wastelands of nineteenth century frontiers. The Kid, a feral teenage runaway from Tennessee, accompanies an expeditionary force of scalp hunters into 1850s Mexico. What follows is a journey into darkness, into hell. McCarthy’s prose is relentless, his vision apocalyptic. That BLOOD MERIDIAN is loosely based on real events makes it a gut-wrenching, indeed, a scarring experience.
PRIME EVIL: A landmark collection of dark fantasy and horror edited by David G. Hartwell. The second volume in a series documenting classic tales from the canon of the weird; authors include the likes of Bradbury, King, Hawthorne and Poe. This is a must read for aficionados of the macabre. Of particular merit: “The Summer People,” by Shirley Jackson; “The Autopsy,” by Michael Shea; and “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner.
THE MISSING: This is a supernatural thriller by relatively new author Sarah Langan. A boy sneaks away from a class field trip and stumbles across a bizarre clearing in the woods — a clearing where the earth has gone black with blood and animal bones are piled in sacrificial biers. The boy’s intrusion stirs a great evil that soon begins to consume the Maine town of Corpus Christi, transforming its unwitting citizenry into something atavistic, and, ultimately, quite inhuman. Langan wrenches the hoary tropes of sleepy towns and festering curses into the Twenty-first Century. Her depiction of small town life and the dark side of human nature would be no less compelling were it utterly stripped of its supernatural elements. This writer is on her way….
A PRAYER FOR THE DYING: Here is a very short novel concerning a plague devastating a small town during the immediate post Civil War days. The protagonist, Jacob, serves as the town’s sheriff, pastor and undertaker, the man everyone looks to for succor even as he is quietly unmanned by his own grief and doubt in the face of this apocalypse. O’Nan’s writing is as stark as a wintertime prairie, and as ominously beautiful. It reminds me of a softer, more human refrain of McCarthy’s epic BLOOD MERIDIAN.
KOKO: I utterly adore Peter Straub’s work, and KOKO stands near the summit of his many literary achievements. His portrayal of the serial killer known only as Koko is a virtuoso accomplishment, inspiring a combination of fascination and dread that is sublime. At once a ghost story and a thriller, Straub tears four veterans of the Viet Nam war away from a reunion in Washington D.C. and plunges the hapless men into a nightmarish tour of their past as they hunt down this killer, a phantom who knows them all too well.
USE ONCE, THEN DESTROY: Williams has been publishing since the mid 1990s, but only recently has he begun to garner his due acclaim thanks to this collection and a more recent novel called THE UNBLEMISHED. USE ONCE, THEN DESTROY showcases the breadth of Williams’ formidable talent. These stories fall within the spectrum of psychological and supernatural horror, although such lines are often blurred by the hallucinogenic quality of his prose. Much of his work details the grit and grime of urban landscapes, the bleakness of physical and emotional isolation and the scarification of the soul that occurs all around us, if not within us, every day. Dense, often ambiguous, worthy of rereading; one of the most accomplished collections I’ve encountered.
SELECTED POEMS (1963-1983), By Charles Simic: Simic’s career spans some forty years and while one couldn’t go wrong by picking up any of his poetry books, this particular collection represents a comprehensive introduction to the author’s many decades of outstanding work. Mechanically simple and often sparse, the surface belies the emotional depth and thematic complexity of his compositions. Simic crafts poetry that is by turns melancholic and acerbic and scathing in its trenchant indictment of human nature, yet is ultimately and unfailingly humane, and, in many respects, hopeful. Hearts break and bleed in the mini universes conjured by Simic, and one would need a heart of stone to remain unmoved by the verse inside this book. My highest recommendation.