In A Collapse of Horses, Brain Evenson is writing from a place of nightmares. Not, for the most part, the kind of nightmares where giant ogres with pointed teeth the size of the stones at Stonehenge loom over you while you scream in terror. No, this is even worse: The kind of nightmare where on the surface, everything seems fine, but you know it's not, but you can't figure out why, the sky is blue, and yet the shade of blue is wrong, and you think someone is following you, but when you look, no one's there, and yet something shimmers in your peripheral vision, and you are terrified without being entirely certain why, and suddenly you can't move, and you know that's very, very bad.
Which is to say, I pretty much loved this collection of stories. If I hadn't lost control of my library queue, this would have been a perfect October book. However, it is a perfect fit for the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge, which started Sept. 1, so hey! One down for the goal already!
I gotta say, author Evenson's photo at the back of the book makes him look like a very congenial chap, but lord almighty, does he have a perverse imagination. In one story, a couple expecting their first child buys a teddy bear that's equipped with a recording of their yet-to-be-born baby's heart beating. The baby is stillborn--but the bear comes to life. In another story, men working on an unnamed planet find themselves increasingly covered in some kind of dust that they can't keep away, and when bad things begin to happen, it's not entirely clear who or what is responsible. A man driving to Utah from California to attend the estate settlement of his estranged father finds unfathomable things happen once he gets past Reno.
If there's a fairly common thread throughout these stories, it's the terror of the unknown. In many cases, the author simply drops us into a situation with no backstory and few present details, which allows us as reader to flail as helplessly as many of the characters do. Some stories are hallucinatory, others are white-knuckle chillers.
So, if you're making a list of creepy tales for October, this would be a great addition. Note: Publisher Coffeehouse Press printed this original earlier this year, along with reissues of some of Evenson's earlier books. If you click here, you can see some rather brilliant book design--four of the books, including this one, fit together like a puzzle, and ultimate the covers feature a rather terrifying creature. Kudos, Coffeehouse.