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A Darkling Plain by Mary SanGiovanni
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A Darkling Plain

by Mary SanGiovanni

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Recently added byDaninsky, mnorris3, yoyogod

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One of the issues with reading a short fiction collection spanning more than a decade of the writer's career is that consistency is likely to be a bit jarring, especially the some of the collection represents very early work.

And indeed, consistency is a bit of a problem here, with some very remarkable highs and a couple of disappointing lows thrown in, as well. This collection was my first exposure to Mary SanGiovanni's work and I will absolutely say that I am pleased on the whole. Her voice varies rather wildly throughout these stories (largely due to the aforementioned factor), but the similar strains that run through all of the works are quite effective indeed.

Guilt and anxiety are the themes of the hour here, filtered through varying degrees of creepiness and raw horror. The author mentions in her story notes that she struggles with both anxiety and depression (with guilt a not-infrequent extension of both) and it is clear that these demons frequently manifest in her fiction...often to monstrous effect.

Within the parameters of that theme, the narratives themselves run the gamut, though all include some variety of 'monster' ranging from the absolutely terrifying (seriously effective creep factor) department store mannequins in the opening tale to a house full of malignant ghosts given corporeal form by the guilt of their haunted protagonist. It is fairly clear, as well, that Ms. SanGiovanni enjoys playing around with the ol' Unreliable Narrator. Those of you who read my reviews regularly will recognize this as one of my favorite literary devices, so the work gets an extra bit of kudos from me on that account. There's clear homage in a few of the tales, as well, both to Bark and Carpenter. The latter is executed far more elegantly than the former and gets another big thumbs-up from this lifetime JC fan.

There are, as I mentioned, a few fairly weak stories in the middle of the book, at least one of which was mentioned in the story notes as being a 'starter' piece for an unrealized novel. But they go by fairly quickly and the high points that bookend them more than make up for a couple of lackluster faltering steps.

I will absolutely be seeking out more of Ms SanGiovanni's work, especially when it appears on one of Thunderstorm Books' various imprints. TB's customary high production values always do great credit tot he authors they feature. The cover photograph and its layout were quite beautiful and very evocative of the mood of the pieces contained in this book, by the way. Always a nice bonus. ( )
  Daninsky | Aug 19, 2017 |
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