Acquainted With The Night
Ash Tree Press
ISBN 1- 55310-075-1 (Limited Edition)
ISBN 1-55310-076-X (Paperback)
Publication date: 12-10-2004
384 pages ; Cdn$59.00 / US$48.50 / £29.00 (Limited Edition), Cdn$35.00 / US$26.00 / £15.00 (Paperback Edition)
Date reviewed: 03-06-2005
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi © 2005
The thing with fiction anthologies is that as a rule, you can expect to find therein some stories you'll like, some you'll dislike and stuff that will probably leave you indifferent. What leads you to buy a particular anthology is therefore the reputation of either the contributing authors or the editors or both. Which is exactly the reason why I've purchased 'Acquainted With the Night'.
But things are seldom how one expects them to be. Names such as Ramsey Campbell, Paul Finch, Joel Lane, Reggie Oliver, Steve Rasnic Tem should have been a guarantee that the book featured excellent stories and never mind if one had to suffer the presence of less celebrated writers and of a few unknown newcomers. Wrong. Because among the twenty-seven stories included in this new Ash-Tree Press anthologies there are indeed some unforgettable gems, but, unexpectedly, they come mostly from the pen of comparatively new writers.
The book starts out like a firework and ends up like a firecracker, with some good stories in between. To mention and discuss every single tale -- good, bad or simply fair-- would be an impossible task for the reviewer and a nuisance for the reader. Not to mention the fact that with such a variety of styles and themes, one can hardly expect that two different reviewers would pick up the same favourites. But what is really outstanding can be recognized by anyone, despite any differences in personal taste.
So I'll limit myself to discussing the very best of the stories included in this volume, beginning with the extraordinary opening tale, Mark P. Henderson's ' Rope Trick', an engrossing piece of fiction concerning three vacationing friends lost in the Highlands ,finding shelter in a remote hospitable house, the inhabitants of which are, to say the least, rather elusive. Written in a very elegant prose the story contrives to deeply unsettle the reader with its Kafkaesque atmosphere without employing any of the standard literary devices of supernatural fiction.
Don Tumasonis, clearly one of the best new writers of dark fiction appeared on the scene in the last few years, follows with 'A Pace of Change', oddly enough also set in the mountains, to be precise, in the Dolomites. It's an extremely tense, unnerving tale where the suspense generated by an impossibly difficult rock climbing mingles admirably with the menace of a supernatural horror.
Brian Showers' 'The Old Tailor and the Gaunt Man' is a very enjoyable, although a bit predictable, dark fairy tale, while Joseph A. Ezzo's 'Vado Mori' provides a chilling, effective rendition of the "danse macabre" traditional theme set in today's academic world.
Desolation, loneliness, sickness and death are the real cornerstones of Melanie Tem's upsetting 'Visits', ostensibly just a story about a post-mortem haunting.
'Weird Furka' by Adam Golaski is another superb story blending the taste of a long gone past with an everlasting horror. An affectionate tribute to the world of local radio stations, the tale is even more terrifying due to its apparent matter-of-fact narrative development.
In Peter Bell's 'Only Sleeping', a frightening chain of terrible events occur in a resort place in the Isle of Man . The destinies of a six-month old baby, a twelve-year old boy and an appalling Russian woman perfectly interact, creating a powerful piece of very dark fiction.
'Survivors' by Edward P. Crandall is an unusual, unsettling story where the horrors of Nagasaki's nuclear bombing is retold by an old Japanese lady who survived the tragedy.
Steve Duffy's 'Someone Across the Way' is a remarkable, baroque story of psychological horror, revisiting the theme of the "doppelganger" in a clever, fascinating manner.
So there are at least nine reasons (the above mentioned tales) to buy this book. The tenth reason is a fabulous, disquieting cover painting by Jason van Hollander that will haunt your dreams for a long time.