While many of the stories are more vignettes or atmospheric character pieces than traditional narratives, Shadows & Tall Trees 2014 fits the bill of 'weird' fiction very nicely. A couple stories fell flat, but those that did work for me had a definite Rod Serling / Edgar Allen Poe feel to them. It's an unusual connection, but Michael Kelly is to be commended for managing such an interesting gathering.
The collection starts with a fantastic non-fiction piece, To Assume the Writer’s Crown: Notes on the Craft, by Eric Schaller. It's a piece that's of particular interest to aspiring authors, with my favorite section being the one on revision, with strategies such as a Kingectomy, Straubing, and Flauberation.
Onanon was an great opening story, with Michael Wehunt putting a different sort of twist on vampire mythology. It Flows From the Mouth is the first of many ghost stories in the collection, although Robert Shearman focuses more on the ghost that haunt a relationship than phantom apparitions. Hidden in the Alphabet is, by far, the most Poe-like story in the collection, one in which Charles Wilkinson draws out the suspense, while building some nice atmosphere, before dropping the final twist. While that was a definite high point of the collection, Death’s Door Café by Kaaron Warren immediately tops it with a story that had me nodding in appreciation of the way it played out. Following that, Night Porter was a decidedly creepy tale that had me guessing all along, with R.B. Russell delivering a twist that I honestly didn't expect.
While I'm not quite sure what the conclusion hinted at, The Statue was a curious tale by Myriam Frey that jumped right into the weird. Shaddertown presents a similar sort of situation with an ambiguous ending, but Conrad Williams spun a wonderfully hypnotic tale that seemed to be heading one way, then took a much darker turn with some fantastic atmosphere. Apple Pie and Sulphur started out strong, but it felt like Christopher Harman stretched it out a bit too long, telegraphing the destination, and then making us wait while he indulged in the journey. Summerside and The Space Between were nicely paired together, stories about strange houses, with Alison Moore exploring the ghosts within the walls and Ralph Robert Moore & Ray Cluley literally exploring the walls of madness. Writings Found in a Red Notebook was an odd choice with which to wrap up the collection, with David Surface delivering a very classic sort of found footage horror story of survival, but I really liked it.
An unusual collection, no doubt about it, more weird and atmospheric than scary or unsettling, Shadows & Tall Trees 2014 is a publication I'm sure you'll be hearing more about, with some authors I'm sure will be appearing in some best of anthologies to wrap up the year. Original and unique, it's certainly worth a read.
Kindle Edition, 272 pages
Published May 20th 2014 by Undertow