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Monday, March 14, 2016

The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven

This is the third of Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year series I've read, and it is consistent with the others, with some spine-tingling stories, as well as some that I just didn't get. There are also a few that start out gangbusters and trail off into incoherence. I'm thinking specifically of "the worms crawl in," by Laird Barron, which starts as a nifty homage to Poe's "The Cask of Amantillado" but turns into something entirely different, a kind of monster story that doesn't match up with the beginning. It's a Garanimals type of story.

Another story that intrigued me at first but then kind of petered out was It Flows From the Mouth," by Robert Shearman, about a couple that have a customized fountain, complete with water spout through the mouth, in the likeness of their dead child. An old friend visits for the night, and has some very weird experiences, but nothing that pays off. It does have my favorite line of the book, though: "The death of a child is a terrible thing, and I'm not a monster. But if a child was going to die, than I'm glad it was Ian."

A pair of stories had to do with unearthing unimaginable things from far below. "Ymir," by John Langan, has a young woman exploring deep beneath extreme northern Canada, and calls upon Norse mythology (according to it, Odin and his brothers made the universe from the remains of a huge giant named Ymir). Rhoads Brazos "Tread Upon the Brittle Shell" has speleologists discovering something at the bottom of an immense system of caves, but I'm not quite sure what it was. Both of these stories illustrate a problem I sometimes have with these kind of stories--they never quite say just what it is that's unearthed. I understand the idea of leaving something to the imagination, but I end these stories with a furrowed brow.

We get one zombie story, and it's a dandy, "Chapter Six," by Stephen Graham Jones, which has academics traversing the countryside after a zombie apocalypse. "Zombies. Zombies where the main thing that mattered these days." We also learn that the best way to cannibalize is to suck the marrow out of bones. Another creepy story is "The Coat Off His Back," by Keris McDonald, which introduced me to the "Innocent Coat" and British highwayman Dick Turpin. I won't say more than that, other than that the title is very literal.

But the best stories are good old-fashioned tales of murder. "Outside Heavenly," by Rio Youers, features a grisly find by law enforcement. "Wingless Beasts" is a vicious little tale by Lucy Taylor involving the unrelenting nature of the desert, and a man who shouldn't judge by appearances. "Plink" is an extremely interesting story, especially for a teacher. The author is Kurt Dinan, and in my classes I will notice those who nod. "Winter's Children," by Angela Slatter, finds a woman looking for a notorious serial killer in an old-age home.

My favorite story, though, is Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)" about traveling twin sisters who murder their way across the countryside. Of all the stories in the book, this is the one that really got under my skin. Beyond being a good horror story, it's an excellent piece of literature, and begins: "The Impala's wheels singing on the black hot asphalt sound like frying steaks, USDA choice-cut T-bones, sirloin sizzling against August blacktop in Nevada or Utah or Nebraska, Alabama or Georgia, or where the fuck ever this one day, this one hour, this one motherfucking minute is going down."

On Datlow's Facebook page she has announced the contents and art for her next volume. Sign me up.

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