Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Blood Angels and More: A Review of A Collapse of Horses

Brian Evenson’s writing gets under the skin and infects.

My first exposure to Evenson's work was “Windeye,” the final short story of The New Black, Richard Thomas’s amazing 2014 neo-noir anthology.

“Windeye” was devastating. I remember feeling disturbed and emotionally crushed when I finished it—and I wanted more.

Of course, I immediately went out and bought Evenson’s short story collection Altmann’s Tongue, which has since become one of my favorite books.

Yes, Brian Evenson’s writing gets under the skin and infects—and more so than ever in his latest short story collection, A Collapse of Horses.

This book is not for amateur horror readers. No joke. Its stories are genuinely unsettling, anxiety-inducing, and emotionally-draining. It is the horror genre at its absolute sharpest and most literary.

Paul Tremblay, in fact, put it much better than I ever could.

“Brian Evenson's collection A Collapse of Horses is equal parts Franz Kafka, J. G. Ballard, Sam Peckinpah, and George Miller's Mad Max. His apocalyptic and paranoid stories are as ontological as they are disquieting, creating a remarkable unity of effect, a timeless yet recognizably twenty-first-century flavor of unease. A genuinely brilliant and disturbing book.”

I don’t have much to add to that. However, I will note some of my favorite aspects of the collection.

First, the book is brimming with 
haunting conceptual choruses—the repetition of vaguely similar phrases, motifs, and events. The overarching idea is brilliant. Evenson, through his use of dreamy, mutating, thematic reiterations among the stories, induces in the reader a sense of genuine unease that mirrors all too closely the anxieties of the doomed characters inside the book. And the fabric of reality, friends, is no object. Brace for its unraveling. Did I even pick up on a few references to older Evenson stories? I’m not sure, but my notes on A Collapse of Horses read much like the ravings of a paranoiac conspiracy theorist. And that’s maybe the greatest gift of this collection—it will actually bring you right to the edgeWithout giving away too much here, I need to mention that the last story, "The Blood Drip," made me physically sick. But that sickness was very much predicated on the stories that preceded it. Definitely read the stories in order if you want to get sick. 

And the writing is deft. So deft. Read the opening sentence of any story in the collection and you’re gonna finish what you've started, guaranteed. Evenson’s writing is like candy—sweet, sweet candy with a bitter poison center that may just ruin your life. But only temporarily, of course.

There's something for everyone in A Collapse of Horses. Fans of "Windeye" will love the titular story "A Collapse of Horses," a tale of familial deterioration, hallucination, and shifty domestic architecture. "The Black Bark" will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Cormac McCarthy with its horseback phantasmagoria. Some of the stories even lean toward literary realism in cases like "Cult" and "Torpor"—each a bleak relationship rumination with some weird elements.

Lastly, the phrase "blood angel." The context only makes it better, I promise.

Really, this book screams for some kind of William Castle warning, about how it will erode your sanity and turn you into a dread-filled depressive. But that would be corny, and this book is not corny. 

Read the book. Embrace the dirty, swirling insanity of the intricate literary universe crafted by Brian Evenson in A Collapse of Horses

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