Tales from the Lake, Volume 5
Kenneth W. Cain, ed.
Crystal Lake Publishing
November 2, 2018
Reviewed by Elaine Pascale
With Tales from the Lake Volume 5, I will continue my lengthy streak of loving all things put out by Crystal Lake. The editor, Kenneth W. Cain, explains in the introduction that as he was selecting stories, a pattern unfolded. The pattern that resonated with me were that the stories told of inescapable loss and regret. There was a recurrence of characters willing to do anything to assuage their pain, to quench their grief, but in most cases the grief was preferable to the consequences of the solutions they sought. As such, it is not a “look under the bed for monsters” volume, but one that has a pensive chill. The stories are like a tap on the shoulder; a reminder that good days end and that no one is protected from anguish.
As with the first four volumes of Tales from the Lake, Volume 5 is filled with well-written and engaging stories. I fully enjoyed the anthology. Some stand outs:
“Umbilicus” by Lucy Taylor: Little Paulie has been missing for two years and his father would dance with the devil if it meant he could find him. He basically does, as he, and the narrator, Gary, both tangle with a magical shape-shifter who teaches them about pain that torments the heart and pain that torments the soul.
“The Weeds and the Wildnessness Yet” by Robert Stahl: a play on the monkey tale fable that shows a far more ghastly inner life of plants than I ever thought imaginable. My favorite part of the story was the sassy brother, Sidney – a really great character.
“A Dream Most Ancient and Alone” by Allison Pang tells of a mudmaid who consumes dreams when she eats children. When the mudmaid is befriended by young Jocelyn, she learns about the real monsters that live on land. This is a bittersweet and lyrical story.
“The Flutter of Silent Wings” by Gene O’Neill: a woman is trapped between reality and the timeline she wishes she had lived. This story deals with the effect of loss in the long-term and shows how quickly a life can slip away when grief is not dealt with.
“Hollow Skulls” by Samuel Marzioli: Orson’s grandmother warned him of the signs of demonic babies. Is it possible that he and his wife keep conceiving monsters? I was not sure of how reliable Orson is in his narrative and that brought a nice tension to the story.
“Starve A Fever” by Jonah Buck: Martin and Joe try to help Joe’s brother escape from prison. When they see David, they immediately notice the effects of a trial treatment he was subjected to behind bars. This is more of a straightforward horror story and I liked how the character of Martin makes himself the continuous victim as he never says no.
“Voices Like Barbed Wire” by Tim Waggoner: We all have nagging memories that prevent us from sleeping and haunt us during the day. What a relief it would be to wipe them from our minds. This story shows the consequences of looking for an easy relief and the setting of Pandora’s restaurant is delightfully awful.
“Nonpareil” by Laura Blackwell: another straight-forward horror story with an incessant description of cakes that made me go rustling through my cabinets for something sweet. Even the gruesome revenge scenario couldn’t stop the siren’s call of my sweet tooth.
“Farewell Valencia” by Craig Wallwork: you know you’re in a unique world when bodies regularly fall from the sky. “Mr. Clemens” (alias) is set to end his life until he meets Helen and she convinces him that “you only realize what love is when you lose it. Same with life.” There is a really intriguing subplot involving Mr. Clemens’ highly acute sense of smell. This was my favorite story of the collection. It was beautifully written.
I highly recommend Tales from the Lake, Volume 5. Actually, I recommend all five volumes. They contain powerhouse stories and complement each other well in terms of themes. For those who are planning to tuck away with some good reads during the winter, I suggest you seek Crystal Lake’s offerings.