Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Horror with Character

I often have mixed feelings about horror. Often plot oriented, horror frequently tells its story through shock, surprise or gross-out, gory details. It can make a story fun to read once, but when the twist is learned or once you grow a tolerance to the gory imagery there’s not much left. Consequently, the stories don’t hold up very well to multiple readings.

There are some writers who step out of that trap, writers who manage to scare the hell out of you while still bringing in enough depth of character, theme, and concepts to bring you back to their stories again and again. Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, Stephen King can all make that claim. And, of course, Poe. I’m pleased to find in Sherry Decker another writer with some of those same sensibilities.

Her first collection Hook House and Other Horrors dances quite nimbly through a lot of the familiar tropes of the genre. “Hicklebickle Rock” is a chilling blend of psychotic thriller and dark urban fantasy. When a killer prowling a small town kidnaps eight-year-old Cassie, her only hope for survival lies with an ancient spirit that haunts the rocks of a secluded bay.

Decker dips lightly into humor with “The Clan”; a vampire moves into the house across the street form a powerful witch a brutal yet comic feud develops. What makes it work so well is that while they have fantastic supernatural weapons to toss at each other their personalities and complaints about one another are completely realistic and believable.

“A City In Italy” is a tightly composed experiment in perspective that gives us complex feelings of guilt and loss of a woman who lost her twin sister. Although slightly muddled because of the narrator’s own confused thoughts, the tale builds slowly to a twist ending that’s skillfully developed.

The title story “Hook House” brings us a haunted house tale, but it’s one uniquely driven by the strength of the central character. A family curse generations old threatens to snare young Sara, trapping her for the rest of her life in the family house just like her mother and grandmother before her. What ultimately drives Sara to fight against the curse is not her own seemingly inevitable fate but ensuring her own son is not trapped within the Hook family curse. Told through a series of flashbacks, the curse and all of its terrifying implications build as the story develops and grows into an atmospheric tale of surprising depth. My only regret with this piece is that it’s not longer; although it's the first piece in the book it’s the one I thought on more than any other.

I can only hope Decker will be taking the next step towards a novel. Going by the work here I’d say she has it in her, and I’d love to see where she can take us when she gives her already strong elements even more room to work.



Maktaaq said...

Thank you for the recommendation. While I like the idea of horror, I also find horror to be not the best of genres. So it's good to hear about something worth picking up.

Sherry Decker said...

Thanks. I appreciate the time you spent reading and composing your wonderful review!