July 19, 2013

Caught Up in the Undertow: a review of "Shadows and Tall Trees 5" edited by Michael Kelly

Shadows and Tall Trees 5

edited by Michael Kelly

130 pages

ISBN-13: 9780981317724

Michael Kelly and Undertow Publications put out the latest issue of Shadows and Tall Trees a couple months back, a passion project that has garnered praise each time from some of the heavyweights in the realms of dark fiction. I managed to get my hands on a review copy of this fifth edition, and possibly the last in its present form, as it looks like S&TT is transitioning into trade paperbacks and e-book formats from now on.

Rather than strictly horror, the stories are quite diverse, spreading all over the realm of the weird. All of which displaying the quiet, literary bent that can go under-appreciated at times. Right off the bat, Gary Fry's "New Wave" reminded me why I needed to keep an eye out for this talented British author. The story of a grieving widower left to care for a psychologically stressed young boy, who may or may not be sharing in the same mental illness his late mother did, carried this striking balance of sympathy for the father coupled with dread over the scarecrow in the neighboring farm's field and how it relates to the sins of the father. Really good stuff.

Claire Massey's "Casting Ammonites" was barely a thousand words, if that, but packed a sizable punch, as did Richard Gavin's "A Cavern of Redbrick," which had a bit of a Bradburian vibe with its boy discovers a ghostly girl in a gravel pit that may be more than she lets on. Veering into something that might be more in Clive Barker's territory was D.P. Watt's "Laudate Dominum" and a wanderers encounter with a museum along a path that houses mechanical wonders with a musical bent--and the terrifying project underway by its caretaker.

Among the engrossing fiction was a bit of nonfiction too, in V.H. Leslie's "A Woman's Place," which served as an examination of a gothic novel called The Yellow Wallpaper. Gothic novels can be a bit hit or miss with me, all depending on the author I suppose, and it sounds like there's a weighty bit of storytelling going on in Perkins' novel. I may need to look out for that one.

I've helped myself to a steady diet of some rather raucous horror fiction recently, so the quiet horror depicted in the stories of this book served as a bit of a palette cleanser. If you're also a fan of dark fiction that likes to play with language and style, you're bound to get hooked by at least one of the tales in Shadows & Tall Trees.

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