Thursday 27 September 2012

Review: A Gentle Hell by Autumn Christian

If you're the kind of person who likes nicely delineated genres, then Autumn Christian is probably your worst nightmare - a writer of dark, vaguely philosophical, sometimes lyrical sometimes gruesome short stories. I guess, if you have a bookseller's mentality, you'd have to call this 'horror', but really Christian is one of those writers classified as 'horror' simply because they don't fit anywhere else...


The cover for my e-novella from Dark Continents. Will be available January 2nd. 

Description:A Gentle Hell is comprised of four dark speculative stories of quiet tension and uncomfortable nostalgia, written for deformed children and girls that dream of demons.In “They Promised Dreamless Death” a salesmen sells sleep with the promise of a better life, but what dreams lurk beneath the substrate of consciousness for those who take it are stranger than they ever imagined. In “Your Demiurge is Dead,” while the world adjusts to the death of God and the new reign of the Triple Goddess, Charles hunts for an Oklahoma murderer and is forced to confront his religious ideals when he encounters a new prophet.“The Dog That Bit Her,” is the story of a neurotic young woman who gains freedom from her co-dependent marriage with the bite of a rabid dog.And in the semi-autobiographical “The Singing Grass,” the artist and the writer converge at a meadow haunted by a carnivorous deer and the burnt monsters that show them the consequences of an artistic life.A Gentle Hell is a collection of four stories, the first I've read by this author. Two of the stories were amazing - very original, very distinctive 'horror' stories. The other two were never less than interesting, contained much great writing, but also the odd flaw (to my mind).

The two great ones were Your Demiurge is Dead and The Dog That Bit Her. The first of these starts off with the body parts of the Old/New Testament God being washed up in bin-liners off the Mexico coast, and proceeds to get weirder from there on in. A new goddess, who seems more American politician than divine, appears, and with her new prophets. As well as telling of these events, the story is also about the disappearance of several children from a trailer-park family, and the cop investigating. The two elements come together in a compelling ending.

The Dog That Bit Her was if anything even better, the story of a relationship falling apart from the inside, about dependency and about independence. The supernatural element, which I won't specify, is gradually introduced, and dovetails wonderfully with the non-supernatural elements, being both pungently realistic and ambiguously metaphoric.

Of the weaker two stories, They Promised Dreamless Death had an interesting premise and much to commend in it, but it felt a bit too long to me, a bit too obvious in its 'message'. The Singing Grass is the most surreal story in the collection, and again has a lot of good points (some of the imagery being particularly memorable) but occasionally the prose seemed too aimless, the plot a bit too obtuse.

All four stories are certainly worth reading, and different readers may well have different opinions about their relative merits than me. Autumn Christian certainly seems a name to watch, an individual voice in amidst all the generic zombie stories and déjà-vu inducing vampire romances. Recommended.

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