All The Lonely People
David B. Silva
Trade Paperback, 204 Pages, $16.95 (review based on advance uncorrected proof)
Review by Sheila Merritt
“So, a man walks into a bar…”
Think you know all the riffs and permutations on that one? You better think again. In All The Lonely People, David B. Silva takes the premise into uncharted territory, and turns it upside down. The man who walks into the bar, in this tale about the ache of alienation and fear of fading away, has an eerie agenda. As he quietly sits and nurses a beer, he piques the curiosity of the locals. They are fascinated by a stranger with a mysterious cardboard box. They wonder about its contents; to mull something beyond their mundane existence. In other words, he had them not “at hello,” but merely by his presence.
Those who frequent the bar are the disengaged, disenchanted, and disenfranchised. Even the bartender is grappling to communicate beyond a superficial level. In a wonderful scene, the bartender tries to relate to his wife what happened the night when the stranger with the box arrived. The wife, however, is thinking about their nine year old daughter, who is battling cystic fibrosis. The husband is talking, but the wife’s thoughts are also depicted. They are at different places, solitary and estranged. Silva deftly sums up, that as a couple grow apart from each other: “They quit feeling. No love, no hate. Just a tolerable degree of indifference.”
Estrangement and isolation are potent themes in the novel; they are the devices through which the contents of the box are maintained. Without giving away too much of the plot, ethical exchanges are bartered. Guilt, fear, loss of purpose and identity all factor into the box’s power. Unlike Pandora’s Box, of Greek mythology, which unleashed evil onto mankind, this vessel thrives on mankind’s donations to it.
The characters who get swept into the maelstrom of the box are “killing time before time killed them.” They had already, metaphorically, made “their own pact with death.” The apparitions who haunt them are scary, but not as scary as the loneliness of their lives: “When your memories were gone, your hopes, there wasn’t anything worth living for anyway.”
All The Lonely People was first published in limited edition hardcover in 2003. This trade paper reprint is a welcome addition to the body of work by Silva, a recipient of a World Fantasy Award, Bram Stoker Award, co-editor of two horror anthologies, and editor of the magazine The Horror Show and the Hellnotes newsletter. He knows his way around a good horror story: Tell a story that shakes the mind a lot, but also breaks the heart a little.