Song for the Unraveling of the World
by Brian Evenson
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted May 10, 2019
I received an e-book ARC of this title from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Song for the Unraveling of the World will be published in one month, June 11, 2019. It's a collection of 22 stories, from fantasy to science fiction, horror to existential dread. A few are set in the mundane world, but with a twist of the macabre. I read them in the order they appear in the ARC, but I have no idea if they are in chronological order. The acknowledgements at the end list where they originally appeared, but no dates are given. Taken as individual stories all are good, but viewed as a whole I'd have to deduct a few points for repetitious themes. A couple of them reminded me of what I think is the only other thing by Evenson I've read, the novella The Warren, which I nominated for a Hugo a couple of years ago.
The recurring themes are those of paranoia and/or a questioning of reality. Sort of a cross between Stephen King and Philip K. Dick, along with at least one that reads as an homage to Lovecraft. The first story is very short, concerning a girl with no face, which prompts the speculation that maybe, somewhere, there is a girl with two faces. Another is about a man in a mental hospital, whose therapist shows up unexpectedly in his room every night, except he can't be sure it's the same person he sees during the day. Several involve bodies inhabited by unearthly entities, whether they be ghosts, ghouls, or aliens. Others are about people who are either schizophrenic, or else are able to see or hear things most people can not. Evenson has adapted a few of his stories for film or TV, and perhaps he'd like to do that more often. Two stories are about film directors, another is about a film scholar trying to track down a print of a rumored horror movie, only to be trapped by a malevolent being. Quite a few end abruptly, leaving it up to the reader to envision the conclusion.
Among my favorites is the title story, about a man who abducted his daughter after his ex-wife limited his visitation privileges. The girl goes missing one morning, and he grows frantic trying to find her while also trying not to bring attention to himself. It is possible his memory is faulty, and his daughter has not been with him for longer than he realizes. In "Leaking Out," a vagrant breaks into an abandoned house, only to find it occupied by a skin-walker. "The Tower" is a post-apocalyptic story of a mutated humanity. "The Glistening World" has a woman convinced a man in a gold suit is following her, and in spite of her fear, she begins to follow him, only to find he was trying to lure her away from danger rather than towards it. "Wanderlust" would make a good Twilight Zone or Black Mirror episode. In order to escape the feeling he is being watched, a man leaves his job, his apartment, and his girlfriend, to wander from city to city trying to keep away from whoever or whatever is shadowing him. Perhaps the story that most fully developed its theme and main character is one of the mainstream ones. In "Room Tone," a film director is obsessed with obtaining the perfect sound balance on his latest production. He makes a deal with a real estate agent to film in a house in escrow, but he falls behind schedule, and is thwarted by the new owner who will not let him back into the house for one last sound recording. His eventual solution is a bit drastic.
Recommended, but with a few reservations. If you're into horror, whether about creepy killers or malevolent spirits, or stories that lie on the border between reality and fantasy, there's a lot to enjoy here. I don't think any are longer than short stories, with a couple only flash fiction, little more than a page or two. I'm rating this 4 stars on Goodreads, but that's on the lower side, closer to 3.5, with the limitation being what I mentioned before. Too many bear similarities to each other rather than uniqueness, and some cover ideas perhaps better presented by other writers over the years.
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