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darkdial by
Rick Berry
Featured Review
THE DARK

Edited by Ellen Datlow
Tor / 384 p / $25.95
ISBN: 0765304449

"The Dark proves there is quite a gamut to run when it comes to the modern ghost and there are still chills to be found in spectral stories."

Any anthology of stories edited by Ellen Datlow is a volume to savor. Datlow has always managed to include terrifying tales in her original fantasy anthologies (some co-edited with Terri Windling) and even the science fictional ones. But, despite over 15 years at the horror helm of Year's Best Horror and Fantasy, several "erotic horror" and vampire anthologies, and even a cat-horror volume -- Datlow's never been given the opportunity to edit an out-and-out scary horror anthology. Until now. The Dark is subtitled "New Very Scary Ghost Stories" and Datlow's done a superb job of assembling a terrific tome with a variety of top-notch tales.

Some of the sixteen stories hark back to the traditional ghost story, but usually with a modern twist. "The Trentino Kid" by Jeffrey Ford reminds us that those who live by the sea must make peace with both its nature and its spirits when a clammer brings a dead boy onboard his boat in a storm. Sharyn McCrumb does a nice turn of the English manor house mood with "The Gallows Necklace." Blue blood may set one apart from the common, but phantoms level the playing field. She falters a bit with plot, but makes up for it with atmosphere. Tanith Lee writes in the spirit of the master ghost story writer M.R. James with "The Ghost of the Clock": modern setting, malevolent spirit that arouses fear, avoidance of pseudo-scientific language (the Jamesian motif as explained by H.P. Lovecraft). She cleverly twists rational but wicked human nature into supernatural but believable irrationality. Stephen Gallagher takes the opposite route. His "Doctor Hood" is a widowed physicist who yearns for his dead wife and Gallagher employs the modern equivalent of "the technical patois of 'occultism'" (another Lovecraft quote) -- or at least its equipment -- and ghost hunting.

Cover Several stories are more evocative of spectral mood than specters themselves. Mike O'Driscoll's "The Silence of the Falling Stars" deals with mysteries of place and human nature rather than spooks. Terry Dowling's terrific "One Thing About the Night" features a mirrored room and may well convince you that "mirrors were the most profound, most dangerous, the very worst human invention." Jack Cady's deftly written "Seven Sisters" features a triumvirate of overly (due to the occult) spry octogenarians who must seek out and destroy the evil that still dwells in one of seven Victorian mansions. Like Algernon Blackwood, Cady's "notable command of the poetic witchery of mere words" (Lovecraft again) sets his story apart. Kathe Koja's contribution is one of the shortest and most chilling. There may be no true ghost in her "Velocity," but the story's paranoid young artist is most certainly a haunted man.

"Subway," by Joyce Carol Oates is predictable but so stylishly done that there's nothing to forgive. Daniel Abraham's "An Amicable Divorce" features the haunted remains of a marriage and what may be a vengeful ghost.

The three final and longest tales are also the ones most likely to result in a "love it or hate it" response in the reader. I'd call Kelly Link's "The Hortlak" fascinating multi-level surrealism, but some will feel it is post-modern pointlessness. In "Dancing Men" Glen Hirshberg writes of a ghost of the Holocaust in a particularly intriguing way -- but there's a chance the reader may get lost in the ending of the story. Lucius Shepard enthralls with "Limbo" in which a tough-guy on the run falls in love with the surprisingly solid ghost of a dead woman. When the hero forges into -- well, not Hell and not Limbo as we think of it -- a disagreeable place of afterlife to save his love things get pretty weird. Maybe too weird?

A trio of stories has the power to stay with you forever. Ramsey Campbell recalls the paralyzing power of childhood terror with the masterful, heart-stopping "Feeling Remains." Charles L. Grant offers a poignant tale, "Brownie and Me," of age and dying. Gahan Wilson is the raconteur of the group. His delightful "The Dead Ghost" is the stuff from which urban legends are made.

Death will always have its sting and entities from beyond the grave will remain unsettling; most of us are haunted by something. Datlow's The Dark proves there is quite a gamut to run when it comes to the modern ghost and there are still chills to be found in spectral stories. -- Cemetery Dance #45)

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Copyright © 2003 by Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.