The winner of a Bram Stoker award for poetry a few years back, Corrine De Winter is a name that has – up until now – escaped this reviewer entirely. A quick perusal of the authors past achievements and we find a lyrical writer who is held in high regard by the collective tribe. In between reading some of the more commercial fare over the course of a year, I like to seek out those elusive gems – fiction that does not fall easily into any well defined category. Valentines for the Dead – for all its intangible qualities – is an innovative collection that more than satisfies this requirement.
And make no mistake: this is indeed the territory of a poet. From the opening story Halo a reader is granted prose that shies away from the nuts and bolts of story, favoring instead a lyrical voice told primarily in first person. Although the horror can be a little hard to find at times, Corrine keeps it waiting in the wings – a small turn of phrase giving way to an unexpected twist where all that has come before can be questioned. Whether it’s a child who grows up in a house of thaumaturgy and eventually learns to fly – or a jealous sibling who dabbles in fratricide for eternal love – Corrine has a powerful command of language with just enough obscure story to perhaps warrant a second reading. If I could level a certain criticism here, it would be that each first person tale contains a similar voice – with the run-off sometimes confusing. It was difficult, at times, to ascertain where old territory ended and new characters began.
A few personal standouts would include Youth is Wasted – a modern Frankenstein riff where a child pays the ultimate price for an elderly man’s broken heart. Watercolor is delightfully malign, a domestic Village of Damned that, in due course, brings forth new life from death. But taking out the top prize here would have to be Dead Boys – an original blend of fact and fiction centered on the subject of premature death in the realm of rock n’ roll and the individuals who deal with our flesh after expiration.
A short story collection that is mythic, thought provoking (and with just the right twist of gothic) Valentines for the Dead is an accomplished fictional debut from a unique talent.