27 February, 2016

North American Lake Monsters: stories by Nathan Ballingrud

Genre fiction gets a bad rap. While cringe-worthy romances, predictably gory crime novels and dull fantasy abound, no genre is more reviled than horror.

Although horror fiction has had such luminous authors as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe, horror fiction still tends to be an under-read beast. Why?

Good horror fiction – moving, disturbing, lyrical horror fiction – is very difficult to do (almost as a hard as writing something really funny).

Without the boosts of unsettling music and heart-stopping jump scares available in film, writers must rely on the unseen and unsaid to create an atmosphere of anxiety and dread in the reader’s perfectly ordinary life.

Difficult to do, and even more difficult to do well.

Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters is a slim and unassuming volume, but within its covers lie some of the best horror short stories of the past five years. Certainly ‘Sunbleached’ is the best vampire narrative I’ve seen or read in memory, and snatches back the vampire from the glimmering clutches of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.

Ballingrud’s stories pit deeply flawed human characters against overwhelming exterior and interior forces that are human as often as they are supernatural.

An ex-con must adjust to life with his wife and surly teenage daughter, as well as the sudden appearance of a monstrous carcass on the lake shore. A single mother with an angry child is offered a way out of her own life. A contractor struggles with the aftermath of what seems to be a werewolf attack, while a survivor of Hurricane Katrina is left literally hollow.

Ballingrud’s stories are haunting and lyrical, perfect reading for a still summer’s night.

If you're interested in more good short horror fiction, try Jagannath: stories by Karin Tidbeck and Granta. 117, Horror edited by John Freeman.

North American lake monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

Reviewed by Hannah C., Mount Albert Library.

Hannah C. loves horror fiction, but she finds the works of Dan Brown to be the most horrifying of them all.

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