Monday, 10 October 2016

Recommendation: You'll Know When You Get There

I've been a fan of Lynda E. Rucker's fiction since reading her debut The Moon Will Look Strange, a fantastic collection of strange and haunting fiction. Her second collection, You'll Know When You Get There, is if anything even better.

The first story, The Receiver Of Tales, is the perfect opener, introducing the reader to many reoccurring themes in the collection as a whole. Rucker's central character is isolated, both physically and emotionally, leaving her vulnerable to the events that follow. The Receiver Of Tales is a story about stories and how they might shape us: a idea represented here by the fact the titular tales are physically scrawled into the protagonist's body. Stories might be things we literally can't escape from.

Many of the finest tales in this book are about the intersection between fiction and reality and the darkness to be found there. Rucker's knowledge of the writers who have come before her is clear, but never deployed in an obvious, derivative or cheap way. There are nods to M.R. James, Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Robert W. Chambers and Shirley Jackson, but Rucker's work stands proudly apart from any of her influences. Indeed, a story like Who Is This Who Is Coming?, a narrative set firmly in M.R. James country, might be considered a warning about the dangers of identifying too closely with such past masters of horror, lest what we see in their works turns out to be all too true. It's quite simply a masterpiece.

What also comes across is how damn good Rucker is at evoking a sense of place, both the physical character of a landscape and how it might affect the people within it. The stories take us from the Irish countryside of Widdershins (one of the scariest stories here), via the American lakes in This Time of Day, This Time Of Year, to a strange and decaying forest which doesn't appear on any map in The Wife's Lament. Into these places stumble Rucker's characters, unsure of the rules that govern these landscapes until it might be too late.

One of the finest pieces here, quietly devastating, is Where The Summer Dwells. A nostalgic, elegaic piece about the American South and the way we might be haunted by our memories, it's a horror story which aspires to more than mere scares. It is, in the most heartbreaking sense of the word, beautiful.

And then, there's not one but two stunningly original takes on the haunted house story. The House on Cobb Street is a twisted masterpiece: the titular house may or may not be real, and its unclear if those haunted were real either. Also in doubt is the reality of the abode in The Haunting House; does it exist outside the confused narrator's dreams of it? Regardless, she leaves her life behind to try and find it (and maybe find the mysterious being she has dreamt might be inside it) as if it were calling to her. "Journeys end in lovers meeting", indeed.

It's a brilliant end to what is, quite simply, one of the short story collections of the year. You'll Know When You'll Get There is available in a beautiful hardback edition from Swan River Press. You can order it here.

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