Sunday, March 13, 2016

Book Review: A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson

A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson

Paperback, 240 pages Published February 9th 2016 by Coffee House Press

I once went to Powell's in Portland with the purpose of bringing home several Brian Evenson books. I had gone to reading he had done at Powells a few weeks earlier and didn't have money that night. I went to the horror section and couldn't find it. He had done a reading there the week before, you think they would have it. So I looked him up on the catalog. Literature. I'll be damned. I mean anyone reading my blog knows that I feel the genre ghetto is really a false wall, but I was surprised by this. Six or so years later and four Evenson books under my belt, including a super cool and underrated Alien tie-in written under a thinnly veiled pen name I get it.

Brian Evenson is that good of a writer. He deserves to be in both sections of the book store really. I have been on record about Evenson before.

In 2013 I reviewed his novel Immobility and said: "This is a strange and unsettling novel, that is so powerfully written it has a spooky feeling throughout. It is all done with a subtle tone, and no wasted words. Evenson is not so in love with his words and never overwrites, he writes with a tight control rarely seen in genre work that is also considered “high lit.” It doesn’t remind me of any other book immediately but if pressed to make a comparison I would have to say a cross between Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with a little bit of a THX 1138." I consider this novel to be one of my top five Apocalypse novels.

in 2009 I reviewed his novel Last Days: "It's a brutal horror bizarro detective story. Evenson's dialogue in this book is a perfect choppy noir with lots of short snappy comical exchanges. The suspense is handled with a minimalist flair and the moments of gruesome reveal are plentiful. This is strange and wonderful piece of horror literature that should not be missed."

This year we got another collection of short fiction with the release of A Collapse of Horses. I normally read collections by bouncing around and reading the titles that most interest me. Since I had put so much work in the order of my collection that came out last year I decided to respect that and read front to back.

As a whole the collection contains 17 tales that are all well written and wickedly smart. They range from straight-up horror to surrealist bizarro with many stories that cross many genres. I felt like the collection got darker as it went along and some of the stories towards the end felt more traditionally horror. Evenson doesn't tell simple stories he forces you to think and consider what is happening and it is rarely surface level.

Several stories stood out for me. "The Punish" was a piece that showed off Evenson's skills at creating characters who despite being odd feel real. A story like "Bearheart" that first appeared in Dark Discoveries magazine felt like a 80's Twilight zone episode. (I really liked the 80's run of the TZ). This story had a simple yet heartbreaking concept at the core. "Scour" packed more apocalyptic gritty feelings and sensations into single paragraphs than many end of the world novels. "Past Reno" was a cool story that plays with a figure 8 narrative structure to excellent effect. "Click" has a Phillip K. Dick what is reality vibe going on without a hint of Science Fiction.

However my favorite story in the book is a short one called "Any Corpse." It opens with "When she awoke, a shower of flesh had fallen in the field." This might be the most grim story I have every read. A surreal horror story about a cannibal trade in what appears to be after the fall of society. This story is bonkers, disturbing and beautifully composed. Worth buying this book for.

Another example of a master at work. If you like weird fiction on the darker side of high lit, you can't miss this one.

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