cover image Muladona


Eric Stener Carlson. Tartarus, $65 (296p) ISBN 978-1-905784-84-4

Set in Incarnation, Tex., at the height of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, Carlson's serviceable tale of horror is driven by its young protagonist's sense of helplessness in a world increasingly out of his control. Vergil Str%C3%B6mberg has been left on his own on the eve of his 14th birthday%E2%80%94not coincidentally Halloween%E2%80%94locked in his house for protection against the disease-ravaged world outside the door of his family home. This makes him a captive audience for the Muladona, a shapeshiftng mule of Mexican folklore who ravens for his soul. Seven nights in a row the Muladona visits him to tell "bed-time" stories laced with clues to the identity of the person of whom the monstrous creature is an avatar. Struggling to guess whom the Muladona really is, Vergil discovers that with each story told, "its tales and my life are mixing together," and that secrets concerning his stern pastor father, his deceased mother, and the town's history are about to reveal themselves. Although the stories within this story make for an unwieldy mix%E2%80%94most differ in their telling from the frame narrative's style, and some are riddled with anachronisms%E2%80%94Carlson (The Saint Perpetuus Club of Buenos Aires) makes Vergil's increasing sense of helplessness as each is told seem palpable and believable. This book will appeal to readers who believe that childhood fears are often the most potent. (Apr.)