Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Review: Worse Than Myself by Adam Golaski
Adam Golaski first came to my attention in the first volume of Ellen Datlow's The Best Horror of the Year with his vampire tale, The Man From The Peak. The reason Ellen chose it was obvious: it was a brilliant story.
Several years later and I found myself ordering Golaski's first collection, Worst Than Myself. What followed was an impressive debut of unsettling stories. Golaski's fiction sometimes brings to mind writers like Aickman, with ambiguous, surreal moments.
The collection is split into two halves, by setting. The first, New England & New York, features tales whose horrors are sometimes more abstract, while the second half, Montana, seems to feature more visceral horror.
The opening store, The Animator's House, is about a young girl on a family trip to visit their estranged cousin, now a priest. The story starts off normal enough, but eventually becomes a downward spiral into the strange when the family stops off at a diner/museum. There is also an eerie story within a story, and it seems like more is going on under the surface. The story has an exceptionally creepy ending, and is one of my favorites.
In The Cellar features a man's eerie childhood tale about his next door neighbor's mysterious house and what happens to him one day in their cellar. The story ends in a rather shocking manner, that suggest darker truths to the man's childhood experiences.
The Animal Aspect of Her Movement is one of the strangest stories in the book, where much of the happenings seem to be a metaphor. A man sees, or thinks he sees, a high school sweetheart and gets in an accident. He returns home and the marriage is strained.
Another exercise in ambiguity, The Demon follows a girl, her boyfriend, and her friend when they go to a strange Halloween party. The story is unsettling, and warrants a re-read, as there are questions as to whether anything supernatural even happens or not.
Back Home seems a little bit more like classic weird fiction. A woman returns to her childhood home to clear out the possessions of a former cousin who she has not seen since her youth, yet ended up renting her room. She begins to see connections when reading her cousin's newspaper articles, which leads to a bizarre, dreamlike ending.
One of my favorites from the first half is the last story, A String of Lights. A man is drawn to the mystery of a young girl doing a video blog when he is e-mailed a link to her videos. As strange things happen around his apartment he begins to have sightings of the girl. What exactly is going on is a mystery, but there is a palpable sense of dread that builds throughout the story, putting the reader in mind of Ramsey Campbell.
Montana opens up with What Water Reveals, a story about a recovering alcoholic who attracts the intention of something that lives underground. This story is the first of the more visceral, physical terrors that define the second half of the book. Golaski skillfully portrays his addict protagonist, whose monsters become all too real.
In They Look Like Little Girls, four people riding a late night bus are plagued by nightmares before they are dropped off at an isolated and empty bus station due to "bus troubles". While fending off the cold and getting to know one another the four find the station besieged by a horde of creatures. The isolated atmosphere really lends itself to the terrors.
In what may be the collection's highlight, Golaski delivers one of the stronger vampire stories I've ever had the pleasure of reading. The Man From The Peak follows a narrator as he drives to his friend's mountain home for a party. Golaski plays with the age old idea of the vampire using a supernatural ability to charm it's prey. The story becomes an all too real blur like parties tend to when one is constantly imbibing alcohol. Although the narrator realizes something isn't right, he continues to drink and go with the flow of his surroundings, getting lost in the moment instead on focusing on the wrongness that no one else seems to notice. The story is a melancholic slow-burn, with a perfect ending.
The Dead Gather on the Bridge to Seattle follows a man traveling to see his hospitalized sister in Seattle as the world starts to unravel around him. This is a zombie story, as one man might experience it without realizing what exactly is going on. The story is highly effective, as the man is absolutely focused on getting to his sister and seems to take what is going on in stride.
The collection ends with Weird Furka, what may be the most traditional weird tale in the bunch. During a late night radio show, the host finds some old records which he starts to become obsessed with. The transformation is undergoes doesn't come as a surprise, but the story is a delight to read.