(Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy from the editors for review purposes.)
From the back cover:
Often the most powerful and moving stories are generated by writers who return time and again to a particular idea, theme, or image. Obsession in a writer’s imagination can lead to accomplishment or to self-destruction. Consider Poe and his pale, dead bride; his fascination with confinement and mortality; his illness and premature death. Or Flannery O’Connor’s far less soul-crushing fondness for peacocks. Some writers pay a high price for their obsessions, while others maintain a crucial distance. Whichever the case, obsessions can produce compelling fiction.
Little Visible Delight is an anthology of original stories in which eleven authors of dark fiction explore some of their most intimate, writerly obsessions.
I’ve read so many anthologies over the past year – so many writer friends to support, and so little time that some of the eight anthologies published in 2013 to which I contributed still sit on my TBR pile – that I confess I have become slightly jaded by them. Little Visible Delight, however, reinvigorated my enthusiasm for short story anthologies.Little Visible Delight is my kind of anthology; the horror is quiet, thoughtful and unsettling. The anthology opens with a quotation from Wuthering Heights, from which the anthology draws its title. The literary classic makes for an apt inspiration. Contributions have been selected with an eye for quality over quantity, thus achieving that near-mythical aim of anthology editors; every story squarely hits the mark.
Each author has gone for a distinctly different take on the central theme of obsession, with hardly a well-worn trope in sight. And where the author has used a common trope, as in Cory J. Hendon’s “Needs Must when the Devil Drives” and “Bears: A Fairy Tale of 1958” by Steve Duffy, their interpretations are innovative and refreshing. Along with the theme of obsession, many of the stories share a common thread of social distance and isolation; of protagonists cast, by choice or circumstance, alone and adrift in a hostile world.
Each story ends with a brief afterword from the author which gives the reader extra insight into the story’s conception. Some readers find this intrusive; I found it interesting, and for me it enhanced my experience of their stories.
I don’t often write an anthology review which discusses every story individually, but when I do…it’s for one like this.
“Before we get to where you want to go, you have to tell me your story.”
“The Receiver of Tales” by Lynda E. Rucker.
Writers, a theme of obsession – you just know there has to be a story about stories, don’t you? In “The Receiver of Tales”, Aisha’s dubious “gift” is a double-edged sword. Most writers will be able to identify with the protagonist’s agony.
“The man I meant to kill wouldn’t be home for another thirteen and a half minutes.”
“Needs Must When the Devil Drives” by Cory J. Herndon.
I’m not going to tell you which speculative fiction trope Herndon has used here, because that would be a spoiler. This story is blackly funny in places, the darkness intensifying the deeper you get into it.
“Remember it takes a thousand stitches to make one dollar. Don’t waste any more stitches.”
A Thousand Stitches by Kate Jonez
Jonez’ perfection of Laura Beatty’s voice meant that these people felt real to me. And I cared about them.
“He was living in the last minutes of the planet and he knew it.”
The Point by Johnny Worthen
Ah, the tragic irony of a life lived waiting to die… This is the kind of story where the reader is kept constantly and deliberately unbalanced, never knowing what is fantasy and what is real.
“You are still different and alone.”
“Calligraphy” by James Everington
This story has commonalities with “The Receiver of Tales”; besides the themes, it features words spontaneously appearing on human skin, and a protagonist who has removed him/herself somewhat from social interaction. The execution and conclusion, however, are distinctly different, thus preserving the delicate balance between uniqueness and cohesiveness.
“Where would the girl turn without her mom?”
“This Many” by S.P. Miskowski
Another story that resonated strongly with me; I have known women like this, and at times been a woman like this. I started out wanting to slap the protagonist, and ended up wanting to hug her.
“This is how it ought to be, and as far as I’m concerned, we can stay like this forever.”
“JP” by Brent Michael Kelley
Is JP a dog, or is JP a child? The fact that you’re never quite sure is testament to the power of this story.
“A girl as silent as a shadow, named for a harsh sound.”
“Kestrel” by Mary Borsellino
Ultimately, a curiously uplifting story about the value of pain.
“You always knew he’d be the last to go. But you knew he’d go.”
“An Unattributed Lyric, In Blood, On a Bathroom Wall” by Ennis Drake
An unconventionally structured story, which is always fun when done well (and this is done very well), on one of the blackest obsessions of all.
“She thought of her baby and waited for the cracks.”
“Black Eyes Broken” by Mercedes M. Yardley
Sometimes the message is best found between the lines… As the author elaborates in the afterword, this is a story about love and the broken, told with an admirable economy of words.
“I’ve been dancing to their tune. All my life, Mama. Now the music’s stopped, and there isn’t a chair left for me to sit in.”
“Bears: A Fairy Tale of 1958” by Steve Duffy
“Goldilocks and the Three Bears” meets an obsession with anthropomorphism meets David Lynch in what is my favourite story in the anthology.