[Book Review] WHEN THINGS GET DARK

[Book Review] WHEN THINGS GET DARK
WHEN THINGS GET DARK
The Haunting of Hill House might be Shirley Jackson’s most adapted story with at least two movies and a Netflix limited series, but fans of the author will forever remember her for her extensive list of short stories (more than 200!). To remember Jackson’s impressive supply of terror-filled tales, editor Ellen Datlow gathered eighteen of the best names in horror to hopefully conjure and recreate the unforgettable chills Jackson supplied horror readers for generations. The stories within this collection cover many eras, subjects, and outcomes, but all rely on the same feeling of unease.

This distinct feeling comes from making the ordinary into something far more unexpected (“For Sale by Owner” by Elizabeth Head, “Refinery Road” by Stephen Graham Jones) or the unease a person might feel when placed in an unfamiliar environment (“In the Deep Woods; The Light is Different There” by Seanan McGuire, “Skindler’s Veil” by Kelly Link) or the suffocating feeling from a community gone wrong (“Quiet Dead Things” by Cassandra Khaw). And other stories focus on the domestic and the disturbing relationships which can develop between parent and child (“Tiptoe” by Laird Barron). Before you read, ask yourself “How could housesitting be scary?” and “Why should a child knowing math create nerve-racking anxiety?” because you will soon discover the answer to these questions. With 18 stories, each reader will find plenty of favorites, so choosing only highlights to discuss in this article comes with some difficulty, so I will describe only a few.

Laird Barron’s “Tiptoe” looks at a family with a normal enough mother, a quirky father, and two sons all of which add up to a dysfunctional domestic sphere. As the boys grow older, one of them experiences intense panic attacks and when exploring the cause of his mental health issues, he digs up memories of a childhood game his father played with him. The story will embolden your imagination, so probably not the best idea to read this tale alone at night.

Elizabeth Head’s “For Sale by Owner” pulls a bit from the haunted house atmosphere of The Haunting of Hill House. The main characters (in true Jackson fashion) transgress social standards and secrets appear throughout the story. The plot looks at three older ladies who decide to illegally stay in an abandoned house to try to get their kicks, but deservedly live to regret their decision.

Cassandra Khaw’s “Quiet Dead Things” gains inspiration from Jackson’s most notorious story “The Lottery.” Two already isolated American towns experience unexplained deaths and, in an attempt, to save the citizens, the towns make the decision to completely remove any chances of strangers coming to town. But when more people start dying, all accusations become aimed at an immigrant living within the communities. Khaw exposes what goes unsaid in small towns in relation to racism, guilt, and revenge.

Kelly Link’s “Skindler’s Veil” pulls from elements of folk horror by offering some realistic situations, covered in a veil of weird. The start of the story seems to go in a few different directions, but the strangeness aptly leads the main character to a housesitting job with two rules: 1. Always let people in 2. Unless they are the Skindler. Lots of dread and discomforting imagery in this story, which serves as the perfect ending to the book.

This beautiful tribute to Shirley Jackson delivers an amazing list of haunting tales, which range from interesting to unsettling. Readers will experience many well-known names in horror in WHEN THINGS GET DARK, but despite the reader’s knowledge of everything spooky, everyone introduced to this collection will walk away with at least a couple of new horror writers to follow. Take your time with this collection and do not rush from one story to the next. Each one should be experienced and lived in before boldly devouring the next story.

WHEN THINGS GET DARK is now available, and you can go here to see how to purchase your own copy.

Book Reviews

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