Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: Gifts For The One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall

Helen Marshall is an author I have heard of the last few years, but I had yet to read anything by her until this summer, when I sat down with Ellen Datlow's Fearful Symmetries. Marshall's story, In The Year of Omens was one of the highlights of the anthology for me, and therefore had me quite excited to check out her forthcoming collection.

Published by the ever wonderful ChiZine Publications, Gifts for the One Who Comes After contains seventeen stories without a mediocre one in the bunch.

Marshall is a masterful storyteller, penning stories that manage to be creepy and beautiful at the same time. Her fiction hits hard emotionally, bringing to mind the debut collections from Nathan Ballingrud and Livia Llewellyn. The stories explore many themes, among them family, dysfunction, inherited guilt, growing up, and regrets. Her writing comes across as honest, and fearless, qualities which elevate her writing into the topmost tier of weird fiction being written today.

 A few of my favorite stories:

In The Hanging Game a woman revisits her childhood and a dangerous game her and others would play. The game was a sort of sacred rite of passage, and more of a ritual than a game. Inherited guilt also comes into play and the story explores the idea of children paying for the sins of their parents.

Secondhand Magic opens with what seems to be a classic, mid-century, suburban neighborhood, but things take a darker turn when a kid magician gets on the bad side of a spiteful woman who knows how to use real magic. It's a heartbreaking story.

Lessons in The Raising of Household Objects is another story where family is front and center. A young girl narrates a story in which her mother is pregnant with twins and the girl is terrified of the twins and of their imminent birth. The story plays out like a nightmare, an anxiety dream the girl is having, as the story goes further and further into the surreal.

Family is at the forefront again in All My Love, a Fishhook. A man tries to come to terms with the troubled relationship he has with his father and his own son.

The title story is one of the best weird fiction stories of 2014. A town is plagued by "omens," Everyone has their own individual one, which ends in their death. The main character is a young teenager, and is struggling as she wants her own omen and feels left behind as hers refuses to manifest. Another beautiful, dark, sad story.

The Santa Claus Parade has forever changed the way I will view street corner and department store Santas.

The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass is another sad story about a boy struggling to cope with his parent's divorce.

In Crossroads and Gateways Marshall makes use of African myth to tell a fable of love.

Readers take a trip to a creepy South African house in Ship House, another story in which family and inherited guilt take the forefront. This one is also run through with the creepy Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale.

Supply Limited, Act Now is a melancholic story of growing up, and follows a group of young boys as they get their hands on a real shrink ray.

More family tension exists in In The Moonlight, the Skin of You, which follows a girl who stays with her father after her mother abandons them. They live in a rugged, logging community, and things change when a mysterious girl arrives.

The Gallery of the Eliminated is about a boy whose father brings him to a mysterious, magical place in the wake of a family tragedy.

Helen Marshall's writing evokes feeling of love, beauty, guilt, yearning, regret, and sadness. She understands the complex family relationships that exists and explores them fearlessly. This is a must have collection for fans of weird literature, and is easily one of 2014's best books.

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