trailofstars (trailofstars) wrote,

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book review: worse than myself

One of my favorite experiences is the chance discovery of a new author. Sometimes a book just grabs me while browsing and I don’t know why. I have never heard of the author, of the title, of anything to do with book—and yet a voice repeats in my head: “This one. This is what you need to read now.” I had that experience with Adam Golaski and his short story collection, Worse Than Myself.

I saw the book in the horror section of Third Place books, on an endcap. The cover—a photo of trees covered in winter snow—caught my eye, and I picked it up. I noticed a quote of praise from Ramsey Campbell on the cover. That was a good sign. I flipped open randomly to a story called The Cellar. A man was lying in bed, post-coitus, watching his naked wife do the ironing. “Tell me a story,” she kept asking him as he fought to stay awake, “Tell me a story.” And so he did…and although I only had time to read the first couple of pages of that tale, I was hooked immediately. There was something wonderfully unsettled about those couple of pages, a strong sense of things that were different. When I returned a week later and bought the book, I immediately started reading. And lo and behold, my gut instinct was right. That little voice, it never is wrong.

Adam’s tales are weird in the best sense of the word. There is rarely any gore, and familiar horror tropes get recast in fresh takes. It’s not that his takes are necessarily stunningly original—in fact, they rarely are. What he excels at it is creating atmosphere. His best stories do what all great stories of this type do—they create the world and don’t apologize or explain it. In this, he’s very like Ramsey Campbell. His prose is spare but luminous. His characters are, for the most part, well sketched-out. His imagery is wonderful, though sometimes a tad too obtuse for his own good.

The book’s stories are divided into two sections: New England & New York, and Montana. To my taste, all of the strongest stories are in the first section. The Animator’s House, In the Cellar, and especially The Animal Aspect of Her Movement--by far the finest story in the collection—are tales both weirdly fine and creepy as hell. The Animator’s House did something that no story has done in quite some time—it actually scared me. As in, I couldn’t fall asleep that night and my insides felt funny. Back Home is a ghost story that I loved because it reminds me of how the weird is not always horrific…and sometimes we welcome it, invite it in to our lives because it enriches us, reminds us of how we really don’t know truth at all. The Animal Aspect of Her Movement is, like Joe Hill’s My Father’s Mask, a story so completely disquieting as to leave you completely unsure of everything around you, of the very concept of reality. This is what speculative fiction at its finest does. For this story alone I would give this book to anyone who loves dark, speculative and—yes—literary fiction.

The book does lose a bit of a steam as it goes on; not that the stories making up the Montana portion are bad. What Water Reveals has the best characterization in the entire book and is quite effective, while Weird Furka, the final story in the collection, is a wonderful piece that builds up nicely, only to fall prey to an ending a little too clichéd to quite work. The ending doesn’t ruin the story, but it does take some of the sheen off the proceeding pages. I think the biggest problem with the second half is how great the first half is—it’s pretty hard to compare.

I am looking forward to more from Mr. Golaski. His is one of the freshest voices I’ve read in some time. Fans of Ligotti, Kelly Link, Ramsey Campbell and Joe Hill should not miss Worse than Myself. Just be careful if you are reading alone, late at night…

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