Trade Hardcover $30
Reviewed by Kent Knopp-Schwyn
In a lively introduction to this short collection of stories, author Richard Gavin likens the creation of his narratives to penning dream terrors for the reader – or as he calls them, Gnostic Nightmares. This description proves apt as his lush language, facile wordplay, and open ended conclusions combine to give many of the tales a quiet, haunting quality that propels the reader into an almost dreamlike state.
Mr. Gavin excels in the longer pieces that give his prose room to stretch out, set the stage and imbue the story with otherworldly elements so the reader has an opportunity follow the cadence and pattern within the words into the unreal land of nightmares. The shorter pieces in this collection are somewhat less successful as they sometimes feel rushed, without the stage dressing or room for the prose to open up and therefore beckon the reader into to the dream.
Of the longer tales in the collection, the first standout is “The Pale Lover”, a lyrical tale about a succubus and how men will go to great lengths to prove or deny her existence in the real world and who will then go to further extremes to either be with or avoid her. Next up, “The Bellman’s Way” is a standard but nonetheless enjoyable bogeyman tale that slowly builds to a haunting crescendo much as the tales told around a dying campfire do at summer camp. “What Blooms in Shadow, Withers in Light” moves back and forth between timelines and viewpoints presenting individuals attempting to unlock the gates of ultimate evil and the sad lonely vigil kept by those who attempt to thwart their efforts. These shifting viewpoints are very successful in evoking the dream state in the reader throughout this tale.
The two finest tales in the collection are “Strange Advances” and “Daniel”. While possessing a slightly overlong setup, “Strange Advances” is a ghostly tale concerning the yearnings of one very lonely man and his chance encounter with a being that may or may not be the embodiment of the spirit of death in one of the world’s great cities. His brief fling with this entity give him the all to brief illusion of joy only to have that flicker of hope roughly flung back at him as if his existence mattered not at all.
The best story, “Daniel” concerns the passing on of a curse or gift to ones offspring and the lengths a parent will go to in order to protect his or her child. The emotions in this tale are clean and raw, the prose crisp and the narrative is more forceful and forward moving that any of the others in this collections. “Daniel” wondrously plunks the reader into a terrible situation and asks … if this were your child, what would you do?
If you prefer the quieter tales championed by Charles Grant; stories that give you a shudder or that moment of pause at the end instead of the stomach crunching visceral jolt often employed by today’s modern prose masters, then pick up a copy this book, sit down on the front porch or lie back in a hammock and read it cover to cover to be transported to the dream realms of Richard Gavin where omens and portents abound.