REVIEW: “Yummie” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “Yummie”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 99-108 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the Review of the anthology.

What a strange combination of banal and surreal this was! It reminded me of a Kafka story, where you get pulled along with this growing sense of horror as everything that should be normal goes sideways.

(Originally published in The Weight of Words, 2017.)

REVIEW: “Running Down” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “Running Down”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 55-93 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the Review of the anthology.

One thing I have really enjoyed about Harrison’s stories is the way that he highlights experiences that seem at once very specific and yet at the same time also familiar. In “Running Down”, this manifests in the opening of the story when the narrator, Egerton, explains his relationship with Lyall, his erstwhile university roommate. The details of their story seem utterly unique to them; and yet, the experience of mutually dislike between close friends is one that has happened more than once in my own life (it makes me wonder, now, whatever happened to my childhood bestfriend whom I moved away from age 10. She and I loathed each other more often than not). The deft way that Harrison does this is what makes his stories feel so real, even when — once you get more than a few pages in — you cannot escape the utter unreality of the story being told (especially when an unexpected personage turns up!).

(Originally published in New Worlds Quarterly 8).

REVIEW: “The Third Kind” by Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin

Review of Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin, “The Third Kind”, Luna Station Quarterly 26 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Not many ghost stories pay attention to the metaphysics of ghosts, but Aunt Edith knows all about the three kinds of ghosts, and make sure that Ray, her niece, and Beth, Ray’s best friend, know all about them too, and the ways in which they should — or should not — treat them. It is the three of them, plus Aunt Edith’s friend Mrs. Montoya, who have to exorcise the ghosts living in the old house that used to belong to Aunt Edith’s family.

If you like ghost stories, then you may enjoy this one. I’m rather meh about ghost stories, and so I was rather meh about this one.

REVIEW: “Sycamore Heights” by Josie Turner

Review of Josie Turner, “Sycamore Heights”, Luna Station Quarterly 26 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Sometimes all you need is a good opening line or two to utterly sympathise with a character. In this case,

The Masons would not have booked their beds in advance. They were not that organised.

Oh, Masons, I feel you. I am not that organised either.

The more I read about the Masons, the more I liked them (and identified with them!). When their foibles dropped them in the lap of something more sinister and my laughter turned to grim delight at Turner’s deft working of horror, I found myself enjoying this story a lot more than many horror stories I read.

REVIEW: “Where the Hollow Tree Waits” by John Langan

Review of John Langan, “Where the Hollow Tree Waits”, Weird Horror 1 (2020): 70-73 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

For such a short story (one of the shortest in the issue), there was a lot of description — it’s pretty much all description as Martin narrates to his father, Les, a dream he’d had the night before. It wasn’t too far into the dream-recitation that I had an inkling of what was going to happen, which meant that if I was right, almost none of the description was actually necessary to read. I feel like the tension leading up to the ending in this one could have been handled a bit better, but there was a bittersweetness in the sharp, swift ending that I really loved.

REVIEW: “You Can’t Save Them All” by Ian Rogers

Review of Ian Rogers, “You Can’t Save Them All”, Weird Horror 1 (2020): 51-61 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story made me uncomfortable, and not in a “I’m scared/this is good horror” sort of way but rather in a “I don’t really like the way purported child abuse is being portrayed” way. I can’t really articulate what precisely bothered me, beyond that I did not think the author handled the subject matter with care or sensitivity. So: This was not the story for me.

REVIEW: “Her Voice, Unmasked” by Suzan Palumbo

Review of Suzan Palumbo, “Her Voice, Unmasked”, Weird Horror 1 (2020): 42-49 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What an absolutely stonking story. It carried me along, gulping for more, with its utterly entrancing Justine, an automaton built to sing opera like no human could ever sing, against a panoply of background characters — the Maestro, the Ballet Mistress, the dancers, and, most importantly of all, Lise, who gives Justine the final secret she needs. It’s the sort of story that telegraphs one ending from the start, but leaves the reader desperately hoping that that is not the actual ending. Really, really enjoyed this one.

REVIEW: “Mama Tulu” by Jessica Guess

Review of Jessica Guess, “Mama Tulu”, Luna Station Quarterly 27 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Drinking, gambling, domestic abuse.

This urban fantasy set in Jamaica centers around the titular character Mama Tulu, and Sasha, the young woman who goes to visit her to make an unspeakable request. I liked almost everything about it — but not quite everything. I have a deep ambivalence about the use of phonetic representations of dialect in written fiction; I am never sure how appropriate or successful they are. Reading them often feels like an uncomfortable caricature; but on the other hand, I think it’s important to recognise the varieties of ways in which people speak, and to recognise the legitimacy of, e.g., AAVE.

REVIEW: “The Night Kingdom” by Shikhar Dixit

Review of Shikhar Dixit, “The Night Kingdom”, Weird Horror 1 (2020): 62-68 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Corpses, severe injury, nonconsentual commitment to mental institution.

Now this was my kind of horror! Haunted books, twisted stories, Cathar heresy, and a pervasive uncertainty of what the cause of it all is, all written in an engaging and characterful style. Thumbs up.