If it is not apparent from my short fiction reviews, I love short stories. While I like all writing from the shortest of stories to the epic novel, there is a certain power that can be caught in a short story that just stands out for me. I was excited when I heard about ChiZine Publications release of Susie Moloney’s “Things Withered.” ChiZine always prints some of the best fiction and I knew that this short story collection was sure to be very good.
“Things Withered” is a collection of stories that are centered upon the normal of life and the dark underbelly of these everyday things. These are the things that we may feel comfortable with so that we ignore the darkness that gathers beneath. There is an evil that can lay behind the laughing faces of children or the grandmotherly face of the old woman next door. Love can be a beautiful thing or it can also hide much darker aspects such as obsession and even murder. Even that old truck that you are used to seeing drive up and down the street can have a monster hidden in its recesses.
What is “Things Withered” when all is said and done? A very good anthology, for starters. Moloney has an almost unconscious way of exposing the darkness that dwells in everyday life in a way that takes the familiar and makes it uncomfortable and terrifying. These stories are not really about the things that go bump in the night but rather about the things that lull us into a false sense of security before striking. Some of them go for the jugular when we least expected while others grow over time until they warp our perception of reality completely. What is there to be afraid of? “Things Withered” seems to suggest that the answer to this question is simple: everything.
As with almost every collection, some of the stories were much more compelling than others but there is not a bad story in this group. “The Last Living Summer” is a very strong post-apocalyptic tale that was terrifying in its relative simplicity. “The Windemere,” which is the opening story of the collection, sets the tone perfectly in its strong writing and a terror that kind of creeps up on you even though you know it is there. That is the beauty of this collection. The stories appear to be stunningly simple due to their familiarity so that the reader never quite knows what is lurking around the next corner. Even “Truckdriver,” which seems to have the potential for explosive violence as the story begins, becomes something much greater, and much more disturbing, through nuance rather than explicitness.
ChiZine Publications continues to turn out great fiction and “Things Withered” is definitely a worth addition to their catalogue. Moloney shows a deft hand in handling these stories in turning up the terror without turning up the gimmicks that is hard to find in modern literature. To call this collection a horror collection is not particularly accurate as I found that many of the stories were more disturbing than frightening. There is horror here, of course, but there is so much more that the collection is impossible to classify within one genre. Regardless of the genre, this is a story collection that is not to be missed.
I would like to give a special thank you to NetGalley and ChiZine Publications for this review copy. “Things Withered” is available from ChiZine Publications now.