Reading Notes: "When Things Get Dark": Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson edited by Ellen Datlow
The stories in this anthology drew inspiration from American writer, Shirley Jackson. These tales capture different facets of her literary style and the overarching themes commonly found threaded through her collective body of work.
Present in this anthology are stories of quiet horror, murder mysteries, secrets, hauntings, dysfunctional families, rage, loneliness, psychological terrors, and the supernatural. Following are the notes I jotted down for each story as I read them. I was vacationing at Dillon Beach, CA, and staying in a quaint, little cliff-side house called Wit’s End. It was literally the perfect setting.
A note about "reviewing notes":
As I read, I jot things down about the stories to help me remember what they were about and how they made me feel. So, these are not complete sentences or full reviews, but I think they get the message across and I'm happy to share them.
"Funeral Birds" by M. Rickert
Lenore is socially awkward and lonely. Going to funerals to people-watch. Part of the suffering and sadness of others while at the same time, just an observer. Maybe even fantasizing the funeral is someone she loved.
"For Sale by Owner" by Elizabeth Hand
Subtle, quiet horror with a memorable opening line. A dog walker finds joy in her curiosity about the homes of strangers. She gathers a group of women to trespass with her for an overnight stay in a strange house.
"In the Deep Woods; The Light is Different There" by Seanan McGuire
A beautiful, atmospheric, literary story blurring the line between fantasy and horror.
"A Hundred Miles and A Mile" by Carmen Maria Machado
“I wouldn’t approach a dog that bites.” The luring of a girl? Repressed childhood memories.
"Quiet Dead Things" by Cassandra Khaw
A tense story about a murder in a strange, little town.
"Something Like Living Creatures" by John Langan
A strong sense of mood and power. Divination. Witches. Empowerment. Rituals.
"Money of the Dead" by Karen Heuler
A claustrophobic, suffocating, toxic relationship between a mother and her son. A tragic tale rife with parental guilt. Suffering. Nature vs. nurture. Terrifying.
"Hag" by Benjamin Percy
“The ocean likes to cough up its dead.” For fans of cults, small-town horror and secrets, murder, family dynamics, and a strong sense of place. Coastal. FEED THE HAG. One of my favorite stories in this collection.
"Take Me, I Am Free" by Joyce Carol Oates
A disturbing story of neglect. “Before I knew what was happening she got inside me and kept growing and growing and now she’s everywhere.” Unwanted child. Reluctant motherhood.
"A Trip to Paris" by Richard Kadrey
Compelling tale. Needing freedom, independence from family. Tied-down. Claustrophobic. Mold. Guilt.
"The Party" by Paul Tremblay
“Eat, drink, and fuck for tomorrow we die.” Living in the moment. Unplugging. Secretive, weird, cultish party. Cake.
"Refinery Road" by Stephen Graham Jones
Themes of friendship. Ghosts. Family secrets. Abuse. Guilt. Redemption.
"The Door in the Fence" by Jeffery Ford
A strange little story about the journey a widow embarks on after the death of her husband.
"Pear of Anguish" by Gemma Files
Another favorite story, this one is dark. Coming-of-age. Adolescent girls. Self-harm. Witchcraft. Menstruation. Finding kindred spirits when you’re awkward, lonely, different.
"Special Meal" by Josh Malerman
A family meal. Dystopian? Restrictions on education; learning. Math. Rebellion. Defiance.
"Sooner or Later, Your Wife Will Drive Home" by Genevieve Valentine
Different women in “compromising” situations. “You could kill a woman practically anywhere.” Sexism. Predators. Pretending and performing in relationships. Independence.
"Tiptoe" by Laird Barron
Photography. Predators. A childhood game. Family dynamics. “Warm and fuzzy outside, cold tapioca on the inside.” A lakehouse vacation—the description transports the reader. Clairvoyance. Sons & Fathers.
"Skinder's Veil" by Kelly Link
A man is distracted by his roommate having too much sex, takes a job as a housesitter for a friend who has a regular housesitting gig for a residence out in the woods. There are some strange house rules. The story is very “Twilight Zone”-esque. Rose Red & Rose White. Friends & Neighbors.
This is my ritualistic plug for anthologies and short fiction collections by one author. I truly believe that anthologies are the best way to discover new storytellers that are compatible with your unique preferences. It's so simple to pick up something like, When Things Get Dark and sample the stories as they apply to the overall theme that interests you. In this case, if you're a fan of Shirley Jackson, you're bound to find something here that moves you the way her stories did. Then, you can pick up one of these author's collections and sample more short fiction to be totally sure they're a fit.
Short fiction. It's the best.
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