Review: “Nightmares”, Ed. Ellen Datlow

Pros: Some fantastic stories
Cons: Some not-so-fantastic stories
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Editor Ellen Datlow’s collection Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror contains more than 20 horror stories of a wide variety. As usual with an anthology, some stories are better than others, and frankly I doubt any two people would agree on all the stories. This makes it tough to give most anthologies more than a 4. One of the excellent sides of anthos, however, is the opportunity to find new authors to read.

There’s one type of story in particular that requires you to think like the writer to really get what happened. There are stories where the ends were ambiguous enough that I was left going, “huh?! What on earth did that mean?” Normally I enjoy ambiguity and such, but I felt it went a bit overboard here. That’s one portion of this that will be heavily dependent on the reader. I tend to think I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to puzzling out what’s happening, so I’m sure there are those for which it’ll all make sense, while I’m also sure I won’t be the only person to leave a story confused.

Some of the stories involve the paranormal, while others concentrate on the human side of horror. There’s a horror writer who uses his connection to a curious family to do something terrible. (Gene Wolfe’s “Sob in the Silence”.) In Brian Hodge’s “Our Turn Too Will One Day Come,” our narrator has been gaslighted by his family for years (every time he sees something suspicious they assure him nothing’s going on). Now he has to help hide a murder, and at the same time he finds out what is really going on with his family. Hodge’s story was one of my favorites–well written, full of personality, and creepy.

Kaaron Warren’s “Dead Sea Fruit” is surreal, following the idea that a simple kiss can divulge a person’s secrets. I loved this concept. One of my other favorite stories is “Closet Dreams” by Lisa Tuttle. A child has been kidnapped and assaulted (that deserves a trigger warning). She starts trying to imagine her escape, just to have something to do, some bit of hope to hold onto. But of course it doesn’t end there…

Nicholas Royle’s excellent “Very Low-Flying Aircraft” involves a beach and a pilot who’s too good at what he does. You can see the end coming, but in this case that’s good: it allows the tension to hit hard and fast. Steve Duffy’s “The Clay Party” follows 48 people, seven families, as they try to take a wagon train to California using an unusual route that Mr. Clay (the instigator) insists will get them there faster. The story is fascinating. The group runs into so many troubles, and things take several weird turns. Ultimately, I really liked it.

I mostly enjoyed Laird Barron’s “Strappado”, but I feel like the characters should have come to a conclusion or two that they missed. And I did find the ending just a tad confusing. Despite all that, this was a very well-told story with fantastic characters. It involves the work of a mysterious artist who does horrific art installations, and people who are invited to behold the latest work in progress.

Stephen Graham Jones’s “Lonegan’s Luck,” is one of my favorites out of this book. An obvious snake oil salesman comes into town, with layer upon layer of intention. Without wrecking where this goes, I’ll just say that Jones fits a whole lot into such a small story! Lonegan in particular is a fantastic character.

After that you’ll find post-apocalyptic demons, a girl who likes to harm small creatures, a sacrifice to ensure safe passage, a zombie tale (that uses the word ‘zombie’! It’s about time!) in which zombies are largely pests. There are great writers in here–Garth Nix, Richard Kadrey, and more.

One of my favorites was John Langan’s “The Shallows”. I read this once before a couple of years ago, and yet I still remember it. Given how terrible my memory is, that’s high praise–it means it was fascinating enough to stick with me all that time. It’s a very Old Gods sort of tale, and the imagery is fabulous.

There are certainly tales in here that I didn’t enjoy for one reason or another, but there’s a great array of wonderful ones as well. I’d absolutely recommend it to my horror-loving friends.

NOTE: Free book provided by publisher in return for review

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