Tem (Deadfall Hotel) masterfully explores themes of identity and loss in this career-spanning collection of 42 short stories. He manages to beautifully spin these universal and often overused tropes in a refreshing way, using obscurity and impressions of madness to hint at the deeper human emotions hiding behind his unnerving, strange premises. In the title story, Tem's meditation on aging is particularly unsettling, as are the differing ways two characters communicate through the "ceremony of drawing," in "Doodles." Though mostly known as an author of weird fiction, this collection fits less comfortably in the horror genre than his previous work, a distinction that should be noted by those unfamiliar with him. Tem lets his characters, their situations, and their emotions creep up slowly on the reader. His style is thoughtful and poetic, and the tension he builds effectively sustains well-crafted plots. He has found a perfect balance between the bizarre and the straight-forward, notable in pieces like "Charles," which has, for Tem, a relatively easy plot to follow. However, even the stories in which the uncertainty of the premise becomes somewhat distracting, the ambiguity successfully relates the indescribable subtleties of human feeling during trying times. (Mar.)
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