Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review: Shadows & Tall Trees Volume 5 edited by Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly has put together one hell of a weird fiction journal, and one I've been missing out on the last few years. Issue 5 of Shadows & Tall Trees was only recently published, and was good enough that I ordered every other volume.

Issue 5 has eight short stories and one non-fiction piece. Every story is at least good, with several being great.

The collection opens with New Wave by Gary Fry, a story about a father and son. After an accident in the ocean involving the wife, the husband and son move further inland to rural farmland. Gary Fry does a great job at showing a father falling apart at the seams when he can't help but be reminded of the ocean every time he looks at the swaying wheat field behind his house. The father's anxiety also gets worse when the son starts to see things, and the father fears his child may be suffering from the same mental deficiencies his mother was.

Claire Massey writes the shortest story in the book, weighing in at only five pages. Despite the short length, Casting Ammonites packs quite a punch. The narrator encounters a girl on the strange beach he lives on. Massey is an author I am not that familiar with, but after reading this story I will definitely be hunting more of her work down.

One of my favorites, if not my favorite, story in this collection comes from Richard Gavin. A Cavern of Redbrick is about a young boy who is spending the summer with his grandparents. His summer starts off like normal, with a bike ride to the local gravel pit, although this bike ride ends with a bizarre encounter that is the beginning of horrors for the boy. As usual, Gavin is excellent, and I found the ambiguity and the horror in this story to be tightly wound. I find that children as main characters work very well in the horror setting. The world children live in differs much from the world adults live in, therefore their fears can be very much different yet very much the same, yet they are open to so much more. A truly effective weird tale.

D.P. Watt is an author I recently became familiar with, and very much enjoy. Laudate Dominum (for many voices) is a good example of the author's talents. Watt takes a stuff-shirt protagonist, and puts him in an awkward social situation which takes a turn for the worse. This story is a great example of one of those stories that can make the reader laugh one minute, but freak them out by the climax.

Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck is an excellent example of dark fantasy. A mother withdraws from her family in an unnamed foreign city as the moon leaves it's orbit and starts to slowly work it's way towards the Earth. The story is told from the point of view of the daughter, who thinks the whole thing might somehow be her fault. Tidbeck expertly delivers this melancholic tale.

Ray Cluley's story, Whispers in the Mist, follows a man heartbroken over his latest breakup. The man travels to where he believes is near her hometown to explore a local legend about a mysterious mist that brings with it the voices of the dead.

A Woman's Place is a great piece of nonfiction by V.H. Leslie, taking a look at topography and entrapment in Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper.

Daniel Mills is a young writer who continues to impress. The Other Child is an excellent story about a young man who becomes fixated on a strange childhood memory, and heads back to his childhood home where he finds the bizarre truth.

The collection closes with another standout story: Widdershins, by author Lynda E. Rucker. This story follows an estranged man having a holiday getaway at his friends' cottage. He starts to become fixated on a strange local legend about a gate in the woods, and accidentally unleashes something. It's a great story, classic weird horror at it's finest.

There is a lot to love in Michael Kelly's journal. It can be ordered on Amazon or directly through Undertow Publications.

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