REVIEW: “Remembering Absence” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Remembering Absence”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 262-274. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Murder.

Don’t ask me how long it’s been since I saw myself die. I can’t remember (p. 262).

What a wonderful opening line — and what an interesting little story on the experience of being a ghost. Thorn’s recounting of the phenomenology of being a ghost I found more compelling than when the narrator (his name is never known) slipped into long monologues about the phenomenology — those tended to bog down a bit. But this story had none of the banality that so many other stories in the anthology did, and all of the beautiful turns of phrases. It was a good story to end the collection on.

(Originally published in Straylight Literary Arts Magazine 2016).

REVIEW: “Fusion” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Fusion”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 244-260 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

While the majority of the stories in this anthology feature an almost entirely male cast of characters, this story is one of the exceptions. I was curious to read this story of two friends, Liz and Nicole, and the others they’re camping with, Joyce and Sarah, and see how Thorn handles women.

The centered POV is Liz’s, but it’s actually introverted Nicole that interests me more, and I found myself frustrated with Liz’s continual dismissal of the validity of her friend’s experiences and preferences — Liz is quite judgemental of Nicole’s introversion, despite calling herself Nicole’s friend. Neither Joyce nor Sarah were around long enough for me to form a full judgement of them; they played their roles as supporting characters in a traditional horror story well, but there wasn’t really anything that separated the two of them from each other, or from Liz. I guess the title of “fusion” and the way in which the story ended are apt on more than one level, as all three end up indistinguishable from each other.

REVIEW: “Lucio Schluter” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Lucio Schluter”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 228-242 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

One thing that struck me about this anthology, the more stories I read in it, was just how many of the characters are some combination of (a) male, (b) academic, and (c) drunk. One or two stories populated with characters like this would’ve been okay; but after nine or ten stories like this, the lack of diversity begins to tell as it becomes harder and harder to sympathise or empathise with the main characters. This story is no different: We’re introduced to Larry and Maurice when they meet at an art gallery, both male, both academic (although Larry is an English professor and not an Art Historian like Maurice), both having had too much wine.

So I set myself for yet another story of this ilk, only to find myself surprised by the titular character himself. Lucio Schluter is a sculptor, who had “had impossibly, but successfully, managed to integrate elements of action figurine aesthetics into the rigor of classical nudist sculpture” (p. 228). This is a tantalising description, and shows how difficult it can be to describe an intensely visual medium through an intensively verbal one. In this story, I really enjoyed how Thorn drew pictures of Schluter’s sculptures through words; it shows the verbal power that Thorn has, which was often not foregrounded in many of the other stories in this anthology. Schluter himself has a depth that makes him far more intriguing than many other characters I’ve encountered in Thorn’s stories so far, a mixture of contradictions and confusions.

(Originally published in DarkFuse, 2017).

REVIEW: “Speaking of Ghosts” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Speaking of Ghosts”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 214-225 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

It’s a ghost story! Jem has a ghost haunting his storage closet, and who does he turn to for help? Not the internet, not an exorcist, not a medium, not an exterminator, no… “a past colleague and good friend…a double PhD (Philosophy and English Literature) with a specialty in 18th-19th century Gothic fiction” (p. 215). Because if there’s one thing academics are good at is banishing ghosts…

Dr. Raymond Block has an unfortunate tendency towards verbosity which is rather irritating to read. He’s more a charicature than a character, and as an academic I find it a bit frustrating to see the usual literary stereotypes of academics being reinforced. But on a more practical side of things, it means that a lot of this story is devoted to dialogue which does little to move the story forward; so by the time I reached the end, it felt like very little had happened.

(Originally published in Vague Visions, 2017).

REVIEW: “Satanic Panic” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Satanic Panic”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 202-212 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Cruelty to animals.

Satanic panic has swept Jarad Cross’s hometown, and when the neighborhood pets start being brutalized, all “the God-fearing cops” (p. 204) knew exactly where to turn their suspicion: To someone who met all the purported requirements of a Satanist, Jarad himself. But Jarad is no Satanist, and he “loved animals a lot more than he loved all the judgmental fuckers populating this bum-ass town” (p. 205).

With this story, there are two options where you can locate the horror: If Jarad is innocent, then who or what is the unknown Satanist that is torturing and killing the animals? Alternatively, if Jarad is innocent, then how can he fight against the panic, when neither fact nor reason will carry any weight? What is scarier, the Satanism or the Satanic panic? I know where my answer lies, but will encourage people to read the story and decide for themselves.

REVIEW: “Sabbatical” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Sabbatical”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 182-199 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This story surprised me. After story after story of misogyny, male privilege, and general assholeish behavior, this one featured a character (Gage) willing to call out such problematic behavior in a fellow character (Thad): The first time I’ve seen this behavior explicitly commented on in the book. What a refreshing change!

This was also one of the few stories where the psychology of the story worked well one me — there was a constant wondering of why? and what will happen next? and even a bit of how?.

I don’t think these two things are disconnected: By framing Gage as someone who is not a jerk, Thorn makes me care about him and what will happen to him, and the uncertainty on this latter count is unsettling, and thus provoking, and successful.

(Originally published in Dark Moon Digest, 2017.)

REVIEW: “Economy These Days” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Economy These Days”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 164-179 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: Domestic violence against children

This story seemed somewhat out of place in the anthology, as it lacked anything that struck me as typical of the horror genre.

I did have to laugh when I read this:

He’d submitted résumés and cover letters to no less than two hundred openings. A total of three potential employers requested interviews. No call-backs (p. 165).

Not because it was funny, but because of all the tropes in the book, it is this one that is the most scary, because the most true. They say “write what you know”, and it is clear from this — and from other hints in other stories — that Thorn knows the academic trajectory quite well.

But otherwise this story of a struggling academic seeking to find an alternative means of financial support is violent without being either psychologically or physically scary.