Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Recommendation: Things We Leave Behind by Mark West

This is Mark West's second collection of short stories, featuring 18 tales: two new, the rest published in various anthologies over the years. As such, it contains a number of West's stories that I've already read and admired, including 'Come See My House In The Pretty Town' (folk horror plus scary clowns), the genuinely creepy 'Mr Stix' and 'The Witch House', and the surreal 'Time Waits...' Special mention here must go to 'The Bureau Of Lost Children', possibly West's finest tale, a panic-inducing story about a father losing his son in a crowded shopping centre.

Lots of the stories in Things We Leave Behind feature father/son relationships, or are about family more generally. The majority of West's protagonists are fathers and husbands, and the supernatural forces they face are scary not just because they are dangerous but because they risk disrupting the family unit. This is particularly clear in the stories 'Last Train Home' and 'Fog On The Old Coast Road'; in both, the protagonist is trying to get home to his family and is stopped from doing so by the horrors of West's fiction. I particularly liked the latter of these two pieces: a creepy ghost story with a fantastic last line.

I was rereading some of Stephen King's early short stories at the same time as reading Things We Leave Behind and there's a clear influence at work, transposed to these shores and made very British. It's there in the everyman/woman protagonists that populate his work; there too in the fact West writes wonderfully well about childhood and being a kid.  But there's a seedier, gorier side to his fiction as well, as shown in 'The Taste Of Her' and 'The Zabriskie Grimoire'. These are stories not ashamed to acknowlege horror's seedier roots; indeed in 'The Glamour Girl Murders' to relish in it.

A final theme, like so much horror fiction, is the past and its influence on the present. It informs 'Mr Stix' in which a childhood terror passes from mother to daughter, 'What Gets Left Behind', a superb story about a man returning to the site where his childhood friend died, and my favourite of the stories new to me here: 'What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking'. This is a superbly realised piece about the past, childhood, and a haunting that feels both Jamesian and contemporary at the same time. Like the book as a whole, it's highly recommended to all horror fans.

Things We Leave Behind  (UK | US)

1 comment:

Mark West said...

Wow, thanks very much mate!