01/05/2011. Contributed by Neale Monks
Wait For The Thunder: Stories For A Stormy Night by Donald R. Burleson. pub: Hippocampus Press. 300 page paperback. Price: $20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-98148-881-3.
check out website: www.hippocampuspress.com
Hippocampus Press have a well-earned reputation for publishing new, good-quality weird fiction and this collection of stories by Donald Burleson shouldn't harm that reputation at all. The twenty stories featured here are all entertaining and sometimes remarkably innovative. They vary in theme from monster stories with a twist at the end ('One-Night Strand') through to creepily, cosmic horror tales about horrors never clearly revealed ('Hopscotch').
One of the striking things about these stories is that most of them are explicitly set within the United States and they use presumably fictional towns in particular states to conjure up certain quirks and atmospherics. Both H.P. Lovecraft did and Stephen King do this a good deal and Burleson follows suit, favouring especially the dry, dusty American south-west. It's not just a case of namedropping, but of using certain words evocative of a particular place: tumbleweeds, arroyos, coyotes and yucca. Even for those readers who've never visited these places in the real world, it's easy enough to imagine what these landscapes might be like thanks to these words and the images we associate with them. There's also a certain American gothic quality to this approach, and as with much of what King writes, Burleson does a good job here of exposing a world that lies just beneath what we think know about the United States of America.
Another King-like trait that Burleson exhibits is a tendency to introduce characters who've just moved into new town and one way or another dumps a mystery on them. In 'Sheep-Eye', the protagonist is a traveller. In 'Hopscotch', a woman returning to her old hometown. In 'Lujan's Trunk', there's an even more Kingian example of this, with a chap not only arriving in a new town, but having the bartender tell him all about Lujan, the mysterious character living at the edge of the town seemingly self-sufficient and interacting with the other townspeople not at all. On the other hand, 'Lujan's Trunk' is very much a Lovecraftian mythos tale, not just because of it includes talk of the Old Ones, but for the way Burleson creates tension through feelings that cannot be completely expressed or understood.
Burleson is also pretty good at telling those sorts of horror stories that lean more towards the comic than the serious. 'Up And About' is a good example of this type of thing, telling the reader what it's like to become one of the unquiet dead. There's a good mix of explicit description together with what's apparent from the way those people around the protagonist react.
In short, 'Wait For The Thunder: Stories For A Stormy Night' lives up to its title as an engaging collection of short stories ideally suited to dark and stormy nights when outdoors entertainment just isn't on the cards. Highly recommended.
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