'13 Views of the Suicide Woods' collects Bracken MacLeod's shorter works into a formidable collection of varied treats. His novel 'Stranded', released last year was amongst my favourite books. I perhaps don't read as many novels as I do short story collections, novellas and anthologies, but when I do and they are as engrossing as 'Stranded' then I am a happy reader. This collection represents a fine account and progression of a writer that is on an upward trajectory in the field of dark fiction.
One of the things that separates the good from the very good when it comes to short storytelling is the ability to capture a reader’s imagination in so few words. Some writers are able to do this with some ease, whilst at the same time creating an atmosphere that envelopes you like a thick mist and refuses to let you go until you have finished reading. Nothing typifies what I've just said more than the first story inside this collection. For those of you unfamiliar with the Suicide Woods, the Aokigahara forest in Japan lies in the shadows of the enormous Mount Fuji. It is a place where people are drawn to to end their lives, resulting in it being one of the worlds top places to.... top yourself! The Aokigahara forest is a place of immense beauty but has a haunting quality to it as well, similarly with Bracken's story. Coincidently enough, I watched a short Japanese documentary on the woods prior to getting this book. The documentary follows a resident geologist who throughout his studies has uncovered numerous corpses, suicide letters and belongings of those who have chosen this route.
The first story in this collection sets a high bar for what is to follow. It is the title story of the collection in which a police unit goes in search of a missing father (Skip, who's been abandoned by his wife) thought to have entered the local forest to end his life. The parallels with MacLeod's tale and the Aokigahara forest are in full view-from the ominous sign at the forest's beginning, warning people to think about what they are doing, to the box of suicide hotline flyers which have all been taken. The story motors along perfectly with an uneasy, dark atmosphere surrounding it. The scenes with Skip as he has a change of heart whilst in the unfortunate position of hanging from a tree will leave you gasping for air and the final chapter is beautifully written. It left me feeling emotionally drained but eager to continue reading.
After a brief flash fiction piece, 'The Texas Chainsaw Breakfast Club or I Don't Like Mondays' is up next. It is a story I read some time ago and one I was only too pleased to peruse once again. It feels like a mash-up of two distinct movies from long ago in 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', obviously! And from 1985, The Breakfast Club! It is another highlight in the collection. This particular story also shows a self-confidence in writing ability where MacLeod is able to pull two things that sit at opposite ends of the movie spectrum together and stitch them into a narrative that is something both fresh and original. Each of the characters has their own voice and who doesn't love a good 80s style slasher? Very cleverly done and well-written. I just wish it was longer!
Elsewhere there are stories filled with pulpy goodness, crime fiction and other darkness, definitely a little something for everyone. Details at the back of the book list the publication dates of these stories and it then becomes clear that there has been an upward progression with MacLeod's writing, a confidence to work with longer pieces and a certain style and flair to his writing that all came together with last years 'Stranded'. For new readers to Bracken's work, this collection is a great place to start and although I'd perhaps recommend the before-mentioned novel, 'Stranded' as the authors definitive work, '13 Views of the Suicide Woods' is a fine, fine collection indeed. One you'd be foolish not to read.
From the author of Mountain Home and Stranded, comes Bracken MacLeod’s first collection of short stories.
These stories inhabit the dark places where pain and resignation intersect, and the fear of a quiet moment alone is as terrifying as the unseen thing watching from behind the treeline. In the titular story, a young woman waits for her father to come home from the place where no one goes intending to return. A single word is the push that may break a man and save a life. The members of a winemaking community celebrate the old time religion found flowing in the blood of the vine. A desperate man seeking a miracle cure gets more than a peek behind the curtain of Dr. Morningstar’s Psychic Surgery. A child who dreams of escaping on leather wings finds rescue in dark water instead. Looking back over a life, a homeless veteran must decide to live in the present if he wants to save his future. In a Halloween Hell house, a youth pastor must face the judgment of a man committed to doing the Lord’s work. Fiery death heralds the beginning of a new life. A man who has been carrying pain with him his entire life gives up his last piece of darkness. And a still day beneath the sun illuminates the quiet sorrow of the last feather to fall.
Bracken MacLeod is the author of Mountain Home, White Knight, and, most recently, Stranded, which has been optioned by Warner Horizon Television. He lives in New England with his wife and son.