Once upon a time, I read and reviewed books for www.HorrorReader.com. That site has been gone for almost nine years now (yikes). However, I had a great time contributing content to it. One of the authors I reviewed for HR recently dropped me a line, asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing her first novel (due out from Elder Signs Press). As it turns out, I am delighted to do so. While I am involved in giving that a read, I thought it might be fun to take a second look at Ms. Decker’s first collection, Hook House and Other Horrors. My opinions have not changed all that much since I first read and reviewed it.
Obligatory disclaimer: This book was given to me years ago for an honest review, and much of what follows is the honest review I wrote (years ago) returned from the graaaaave.
In Sherry Decker’s first collection, we find several stories of the mysterious and horrific, which first appeared in markets as diverse as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, City Slab, Cemetery Dance, and Black Gate. They are all intense and interesting reads, with more than half of them falling into the camp of jewels that deserve to be reread and savored for their meticulous craft and exemplary use of language.
Some of the stories initially appear simple or even simplistic. However, they reward reflection. A little bit of consideration reveals fine levels of depth to almost all of the contents.
In the titular “Hook House” what might have been another gothic, haunted house yarn develops into a meditation upon family legacy, the importance of names, and a study of how the past shapes the present.
“Hicklebickle Rock” is ostensibly a story about murders affecting a small town. However, told from a young girl’s perspective, it reveals itself to be a subtle sketch of the destruction of innocence.
On the surface, “The Clan” is about the rivalry between a vampire and a witch. However, the story seethes with a cheekiness, a sense of humor targeted at the petty feuds found in many neighborhoods and the oftentimes outrageous escalations of events accompanying these feuds. In some ways, it echoes stories like Richard Matheson’s classic “The Distributor,” though it avoids a direct comparison to this story by removing itself from the photorealistic hatreds and applying, instead, a fine coat of the fantastic to ease the bitter taste of its similar medicine.
These are just the first three. Each of the eleven stories is rich with subtext. Close attention reveals some interesting motifs. Checkbook balancing appears in a couple of the tales as a symbol for orderly minds. Family legacies often reveal and revel in violence. Witchcraft is a thing for neighbors, punished when it ceases to be useful. The past and the present blend to create a sense of removal from time itself.
Extreme horror fanatics, please take note: the horror in these stories is not found in the blood ‘n guts or prolonged scenes of physical torture that populate the works of Bryan Smith, Matt Shaw, or Tim Miller. Instead, it results from Jamesian brushes with the supernatural. It stems from relationships and prolonged scenes of emotional torment. As in the works of Melanie Tem, say, brutality is present, but it is delivered in a quiet voice. Quiet, perhaps, but no less affecting.
This collection is not quite perfect. Some of the dialogue in “Tarissa” does not flow smoothly, I did not find “Twisted Wishes, Twilight Dreams” to be as effective as Saki’s “Monkey’s Paw” (though the final image is certainly killer), and I found some character motivation in “Jessica Fishbone” to strain credibility. This is a first collection, after all. The author is still growing, and I am eager to see the next phase of her literary evolution. This collection is a small and flawed but still a remarkable addition to any genre. In fact, this volume belongs on the shelves of readers who enjoy either Joyce Carol Oates or Flannery O’Conner.
With Hook House and Other Horrors, Sherry Decker has established herself as a writer to watch. I look forward to considering the author’s upcoming novel.Read more "The Gothic and the Grotesque: Sherry Decker’s Hook House and Other Horrors"