cover image TALKING IN THE DARK: Selected Stories

TALKING IN THE DARK: Selected Stories

Dennis Etchison, . . Stealth, $29.95 (355pp) ISBN 978-1-58881-017-5

While Etchison (California Gothic) is best known for horror, this wide-ranging collection culled from the past 30 years reveals an unexpected non-genre side to his newer tales, sometimes reminiscent of John Cheever and Shirley Jackson. Still, the truly rewarding stories here number from among his relentlessly grim early ones. Standing out is "The Late Shift," a deft if heavy-handed satire of capitalism, in which a secret organization turns outcasts into zombies and farms them out as pliable, low-wage workers. In the slow-building shocker, "It Only Comes Out at Night," a highway rest area is a charnel house for awaiting travelers. Reanimated Donner Party teenagers cannibalize their modern counterparts in the taut "Daughter of the Golden West," while Stephen King's Misery gets poignantly inverted in "Talking in the Dark." In a funnier vein, a good Samaritan is outrageously exploited in "Call Home." On the other hand, some stories, including the antivivisectionist jeremiad, "The Dead Line," and the never-before-published "Red Dog Down," grow boring and pretentious. Since the stories are arranged in rough order of composition, it's easy to observe Etchison's style evolve, from self-consciously dry and hard-boiled prose into the mellifluous and light-handed. Many early stories are marred by stupefying recitation of products and brand names. But a growing wit is on display, as when a Hollywood producer boasts of his movie's star: "The picture's called Is Anybody There? It was written for him." Etchison is one of the better talents writing horror today, but readers must be patient to find the pearls. (July)

Forecast:With a blurb from Peter Straub, among other horror notables, plus a striking J.K. Potter jacket, this book screams quality—and has the potential to be a genre bestseller.