Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Review: Unseaming by Mike Allen
Mike Allen's collection Unseaming came to me as a complete surprise. Author Joe Pulver recommended it, and then I received an ARC. Mike Allen is mostly known as a poet, and an editor for Mythic Delirium and Clockwork Phoenix, and up until now I hadn't read any fiction from him, which is unfortunate because these stories could very well snag him an award for best collection.
Unseaming collects fourteen stories, eleven of which have been published elsewhere over the last sixteen years, and three of which are original to this collection. The stories range from dark fantasy to outright horror, and are preceded by an introduction written by Laird Barron.
Allen's skill as a poet can be seen in his fiction, in which he exhibits a strong, confident prose style. His deft use of language and description further flesh out his fiction. Many themes are explored within the stories: dark desires, secrets, childhood trauma, love, loss, and transformation.
The book opens with The Button Bin, a Nebula-nominated emotional rollercoaster. As disturbing truths are revealed the lines between hero and villain are shattered. The penultimate story, The Quiltmaker, is an original novella which serves as sequel to The Button Bin. The interconnected themes of secrets and dark desires are amplified within, as a troubled neighborhood is laid bare for the reader to see. The sequel adds even more dimensions to the origin story, and is the true climax of the collection.
Self-deceit and self destruction come into play in a few of the stories. In Her Acres of Pastoral Playground, a man is living a lie in order to protect some semblance of family and his sanity. Humpty is one man's fever dream and coming to terms with childhood abuse. Reality blurs, and the protagonist doesn't know what to believe himself until he faces the truth. Gutter sees a young reporter who becomes obsessed with an area which sees an abundance of death and disappearances and goes on a crusade for the truth. Despite constant warnings by his superiors, his obsession leads him to drugs and alcohol and costs him his family, his health, and much, much more.
Apocalypses are begun or played out in The Blessed Days, Let There Be Darkness, and Her Acres of Pastoral Playground. Allen gives glimpses of terrible futures. In The Blessed Days people all across the world awake everyday covered in blood that has seeped through their pores, which is just a precursor for something much worse. Her Acres of Pastoral Playground gives a glimpse of a world in which Lovecraftian beings have risen and reclaimed the Earth as their own. Let There Be Darkness offers a truly terrifying look at what God could really be like, and what would happen if the Second Coming isn't accepted.
Dark fairy tales and Euro folklore are at play in The Music of Bremen Farm and Stone Flowers. The first being a tale of revenge, and the second a tale of love and the cruel bargains that must sometimes be made.
Weird places are used effectively in The Hiker's Tale and The Lead Between the Panes, two of my favorite tales from the collection.
Unseaming is one of my highlights of 2014, which has been a year of strong fiction collections (especially debuts). It is my belief that Mike Allen is about to grab a lot of attention with this book. The sporadic publishing of his fiction over nearly two decades has helped him fly under the fiction radar. This changes with his collection. This is where he crashes the party, strutting in like a rockstar, with the skills to back it up. I expect to hear his name a lot in the coming years.