by Rick Hautala
Cemetery Dance (2011)
It's one of those sad realizations when an author dies and you know there's never going to be anymore new stories from them. In my case, I had only just become aware of Rick Hautala's work at the time of his death, and roundly bought quite a few of his books to add to my TBR pile after reading the outpouring of kind and considerate words from writers whose work I had already read and enjoyed. The first book of Hautala's I picked up to read was around Halloween time and fittingly was Four Octobers.
This collection of four novellas works at capturing a bit of that small-town sensibility with the underlying insidiousness that permeates through a lot of those otherwise bucolic little spots of Americana.
First up was "Tin Can Telephone." I had one of those as a little boy, myself, and I'll be danged if I could have gotten it to work right. Getting a cell phone to get a single bar in the Canadian outback would have been easier. In any case, the boys who build one in this story set in the 1950s have no such trouble. In fact, it's when one boy dies and the other receives messages through the tin can telephone, all while the wonder of the space race goes on. A huge nostalgia kick with this one and kind of traipsed into Bradbury territory, at leat to my way of thinking, with its tinges of horror and sci-fi while keeping focused on the young characters.
"Miss Henry's Bottles" felt like two stories in one, or maybe it's that the story started out as one thing and wound up turning into something else entirely. Two boys get into a bit of an argument on their way home, which winds up causing one of the boys sneaking onto the yard of a scary, old woman and getting caught. To keep his parents from finding out he agrees to do some back-breaking chores for her, but it's while he does this day by day that revelations occur that send the story in one very unexpected direction. While good, the drastic shift in tone didn't feel all that smooth, and I found this story to be the weakest of the four.
"Blood Ledge" turned out to be my favorite, with a strong sense of Stephen King's "The Body" as I read. At this point in the book, the recurring theme of boys facing unsettling fears was abundantly clear. Here, four boys head out to Blood Ledge to dare each other to jump off into the cool waters below, but one boy winds up seeing something that scares him to the point that he nearly brains himself on the Ledge. And what's worse, he might have to do it again to get a second look. Very creepy, great interaction between the boys, but a bit of a saw-it-coming ending to finish it off. Still, a really enjoyable read.
To finish things off was "Cold River," which strayed from the young boys in a bygone ear and went into one of my favorite avenues: a ghost story. Set in present time, or pretty close to, the story does a very good job of providing the most spinetingling tale, and a pretty good capper to the book as a whole.