I bought this book on the strength of two prior acquaintances with Mr. Everington’s work. The first was his novella The Shelter, which I read and reviewed last year. The second was his late night reading at FCon last year, where he read part of the story ‘The Man Dogs Hated’ from this collection. I so enjoyed the reading that I bought a copy of the collection in the room.
Having finally gotten around to finishing it, I can state that it is, so far, my short story collection of 2016.
It begins with ‘Falling Over’, and straight away, I’m back in Everington country - well defined characters, a brilliantly realised first person perspective, and a situation just ever so slightly askew. The setting in particular here is incredibly canny - student housing over a winter break, mostly abandoned, with just a few misfits stuck with each other. The claustrophobia feeds so well into the paranoia of the narrator that I was left in doubt right up until the final pages as to how the story would resolve.
Next up is ‘Fate, Destiny, and a Fat Man from Arkansas’ - a title that that I suspect most of us wish we’d have come up with. Very different protagonists here, and a different type of tale, one more concerned with creeping inevitability and dread rather than paranoid ambiguity, this nonetheless packs a punch, and towards the end has all the qualities of a fever induced lucid nightmare.
‘New Boy’ again explores themes of dislocation and environmental alienation, and again, there’s an ambiguity at the heart of the tale that Everington does a masterful job of teasing out. Anyone who has worked as an office temp will find things to relate to here.
‘The Time of Their Lives’ showcases Everington’s considerable talent for writing about children, as he explores one child’s visit with his grandparents to a singular hotel. This tale is wonderfully atmospheric, a chilling reminiscence on age, youth, and mortality, with a sense of wrongness that builds throughout the narrative. Deliciously creepy stuff.
‘The Man Dogs Hated’ sold me on the whole collection, and in a very strong set of stories, it still stood out for me as a gem. There’s a lot of reasons why, but near the top of the list has to be the voice. It’s a fussy, precise telling, cleverly conversational yet lacking the rambling qualities such approaches are often plagued by. It’s subtle but incredibly skillful storytelling, and the approach fits the subject of the narrative like a glove. Additionally, it’s just a brilliant premise, with a lovely side order of that patented Everington ambiguity, especially as the character of the narrator is revealed through the tale. There’s some really delightful commentary here on the small town, Daily Mail mentality, and all the more chilling for being told from the inside, by someone who considers themselves the voice of reason. This is artful stuff, and the author’s note that even he doesn’t know exactly where the story came from just adds to the joy, for me. Tales like this are why I love the short form.
‘Sick Leave’ riffs on a classic horror trope; creepy children. In this case a classroom of primary age children. It reminded me in passing of the Stephen King short ‘Suffer The Children’, in some ways, but Everington very much makes the idea his own, combining the sometimes eerie group behaviour of kids with an unease about certain nursery rhymes, and adds on a layer of illness for the teacher that gives the whole story a sense of being viewed through a fog. It’s beautifully evocative, and ultimately chilling.
‘Public Interest Story’ rounds the collection out with a brilliant meditation on tabloid press ‘monstering’ and the mob mentality. Again, there’s that sense of dislocation, of the world viewed from just slightly to one side, and yet as a whole this tale is terrifyingly relatable, with all-too-real corollaries in the real world. More than simply brilliant (though it is that), I’d go so far as to call this story actually important. It’s certainly a brilliantly chosen closer for the book.
Overall, this is a masterful collection from a writer with an incredible deftness of touch. Note perfect grasp of character, the ability to render the mundane strange with a turn of phrase, deeply literate yet not an ounce of pretension, Everington is a quiet but potent voice in horror fiction, and one I am grateful to have discovered. If literate, creepy horror is your prefered poison, I think you kind of need this in your life. Even if not, I’d say both ‘Public Interest Story’ and ‘The Man Dogs Hated’ are approaching masterclasses of the short form, and how to make it sing. Superb work.
Kit Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary.
In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo, www.disciplesofgonzo.com