cover image Before and Afterlives

Before and Afterlives

Christopher Barzak. Lethe (Ingram, dist.), $15 trade paper (242p) ISBN 978-1-59021-369-8

Barzak’s second collection of literary horror (after Birds and Birthdays) focuses on largely passive protagonists who spin destruction and madness out of everyday events: broken relationships (“Born on the Edge of an Adjective”), lost children (“The Drowned Mermaid”), and the deaths of loved ones (“A Mad Tea Party”). Absent fathers are common features, as are ghosts and revenants that are generally more interested in reminding the living of their presence than in bloody revenge. The more optimistic pieces, such as “The Language of Moths,” focus on self-actualization prompted by a hint of supernatural intervention. Masterfully crafted but emotionally distant, the stories are more to be admired than enjoyed. Individually, each one packs a punch, but a certain sameness of tone from piece to piece keeps the collection from truly excelling. (Mar.)