Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley
Who doesn’t love Halloween? Okay, it’s true that in some areas of the country, you will have near adults dressed in nothing more than a cheap mask ringing the doorbell and then being upset that they haven’t received a whole Snickers bar, but, hey, it’s Halloween, and look at those Princess Leias. Brings a bit of hope about the future generation.
But as most people can tell you, as the Princess Leias illustrate, there is also an attempt to make Halloween less scary. Some schools have forbidden scary outfits, and most customers in my neighborhood recently have been superheroes and princesses. (And that is another issue). While it is understandable not to want to frighten young children, the sexualization of costumes and the move to cute, does tend to be a bit disturbing. Look at the difference between male and female Iron Man costumes, for instance.
Thankfully Morton and Datlow hew to the original concept of Halloween in this well edited collection.
All the stories are set on Halloween (or on a related festival). All the tales are spooky and focus on the darker aspect of the holiday. Thought, it should be noted, that cute can still make an appearance in one or two tales. But it is cute with a big bite, lots of sharp teeth, and you know, it is going to leave a scar.
Seanan McGuire’s “With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfbane Seeds” starts the collection. It is, on the surface, a haunted house tale (what better way to celebrate Halloween), as well as makes us of the idea of Mischief Night. It is a good teen story too, at least in terms of the idea of needing and wanting to belong to a group. It’s a rather quiet study of it, and while the subject matter and execution are completely different, in many ways it reminds me of Kij Johnson’s “Ponies” – the most chilling story about peer pressure ever.
Which isn’t in this collection, but McGuire’s short story is just as good, so if you liked “Ponies”, read it.
McGuire is followed by “Dirtmouth” by Stephen Graham Jones, a tale about fame, death, and afterlife. To say much more would be giving a bit too much away, so I won’t. Let’s just say, it makes a good companion piece to “The Monkey’s Paw”.
Look, if you are over 12, and don’t know “The Monkey’s Paw,” I can’t know you. Sorry.
Perhaps Jonathan Maberry’s “A Small Taste of the Old Country”. Considering the Trump’s administrations misstatements, false statements, or missteps (you can pick the word, I prefer lies) in terms of the Holocaust, Maberry’s somber story is a good rebuke to all those statements. It also, like most good fiction, raises questions about justice, remembrance, and freedom.
Joanna Parupinski’s tale “Wick’s End” makes good use of several folklore and tale motifs as does Kelley Armstrong’s “Nos Galen Gaeaf” (which is set in Cainsville). Additionally, both stories make excellent use of the idea of storytelling. Phillip Pullman’s “Seventeen Year Itch” also makes use of this idea and combines with the overuse trope of a madhouse. Yet, he writes quite a spooky story.
Jeffrey Ford gets bonus points for placing a tale in the New Jersey Pine Barrens but not including the Jersey Devil. Paul Kane too plays with the sounds of footsteps, and John R. Little sets a Halloween on the moon. Work by Pat Cadigan, Kate Jonez, S.P. Miskowski, and John Langan round out the collection.
In all, the short stories are strong and contain a good deal of spook and spine tingles. The emphasis is on fear rather than shock. This isn’t to say that there is not blood, but the horror is more psychological than shock with blood spurting. Not there isn’t the odd spurt or so.