December 7, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Hard Roads" by Steve Vernon

Hard Roads
by Steve Vernon
forward by Norman Partridge
Gray Friar Press (2007)
160 pages
ISBN 9780955092282

Some strange things can happen when you're traveling the back roads of eastern Canada, and if you don't believe me then you can just ask Steve Vernon.

In Hard Roads, Vernon offers up two novellas. The first, Trolling Lures, is set in rural Nova Scotia--my own stomping grounds--as a suicidal man and his ghostly female companion head out a back road towards his last fishing hole. Before he can meet his demise though, the man runs afoul of a troll and the two children enslaved to it. The second novella, Hammurabi Road, has a trio of friends driving along an old railway track in a borrowed pickup truck, with a fourth passenger tied up in the back. They're on their way to kill the man they blame for a fire that killed one of their brothers, but when a black bear gets in their way things take more than one strange turn.

Vernon manages to wrap up about six varieties of weird in each of these two stories. You've got a talking trickster god who likes to switch between being a coyote and a mountie. You've got a bear attack that ends with one guy wearing bear brains over his face, while another ends up elbow deep in the bear's south end. You've even got a couple of ghosts getting it on by a campfire. Yup, a little bit of everything happens in the Canadian wilderness.

Before now, I've only read Vernon's nonfiction through his ghostly storytelling of local legends via Halifax Haunts and Haunted Harbours. The stories he weaves here come with an even thicker dialect and really carry their own weight. The language is rough and tumble, just like the terrain and the characters in his stories. Some of it feels a bit mismatched at times, but it kind of gels by the time you finish each novella. Sort of like good stews, I guess.

I'm not sure how readily available these stories are. It looks like Gray Friar Press only published a few hundred of these in limited release. I recommend each story to readers looking for something both quirky and gritty to go with their horror, but considering I only got ahold of this book thanks to an inter-library loan, you might have to do some scavenger hunting of your own.

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