Nathan Ballingrud's North American Lake Monsters was published by Small Beer Press in July 2013.
Information about Nathan Ballingrud:
Nathan Ballingrud was born in Massachusetts but has spent most of his life in the South. He worked as a bartender in New Orleans and New York City and a cook on offshore oil rigs. His story "The Monsters of Heaven" won the inaugural Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his daughter.
Click here to visit the Nathan Ballingrud's official website.
Information about North American Lake Monsters:
These are love stories. And also monster stories. Sometimes these are monsters in their traditional guises, sometimes they wear the faces of parents, lovers, or ourselves. The often working-class people in these stories are driven to extremes by love. Sometimes, they are ruined; sometimes redeemed. All are faced with the loneliest corners of themselves and strive to find an escape.
A REVIEW OF NATHAN BALLINGRUD'S NORTH AMERICAN LAKE MONSTERS
Nathan Ballingrud's North American Lake Monsters is the author's debut short story collection and what a debut it is! It's one of the best horror short story collections published during the last couple of years.
There are certain short story collections that are so spectacular and unforgettable that you can't help but wonder how the author has managed to write all the stories. This collection is one of those collections, because it's a work of art in terms of storytelling, characterization and atmosphere. I have to admit that I was very impressed by this collection. It's one the highlights of the year and should be read by everybody who loves horror and dark fantasy stories.
I've always loved good dark fantasy, horror and especially weird fiction (and cosmic horror). These dark stories intrigue me much more than any other stories, because there's something in them that makes me want to read them in one sitting. This short story collection also caused this kind of a reaction in me, because the stories were fascinatingly dark and I couldn't stop reading them. If I should describe this collection with only one adjective, the adjective would be "AMAZING", because all the stories in this collection are simply amazing in their bleakness.
Before I begin to review and analyze the contents of this collection, I have to mention that it's amazing how many good and talented new authors have emerged during the last couple of years (I think it's fair to say that this is the new golden age for horror and dark fantasy). Nathan Ballingrud is one of these good authors and I think that he has a bright future ahead of him as an author. I sincerely hope that he will continue to write more horror stories, because he's an extremely talented author.
North American Lake Monsters contains the following nine stories:
- You Go Where It Takes You
- Wild Acre
- The Crevasse (co-written by Dale Bailey)
- The Monsters of Heaven
- North American Lake Monsters
- The Way Station
- The Good Husband
Here's a bit more information about these stories and my thoughts about them:
You Go Where It Takes You:
- The protagonist of this story, Toni, is a single mother who's a waitress. When Toni meet Alex, her life changes, because Alex has a secret.
- In my opinion You Go Where It Takes You is an intriguing story about life, family and difficult choices.
- In this story Jeremy sees something that disturbs and scares him. Afterward he struggles with his guilt.
- I think that the author writes surprisingly well about Jeremy's feelings and guilt.
- This is a disturbing story about a young man, Nick, whose mother suffers from depression. Nick tries to find his place and gets involved with a nasty group of people.
- It's been a long time since I've read anything this disturbing. It's amazing how well the author writes about Nick's life and his choices.
- This story was first published in Lovecraft Unbound (edited by Ellen Datlow), so it was familiar to me. Now that I read it again, I liked it even more. It's one of the finest Lovecraftian horror stories ever written.
- I think it's great that Nathan Ballingrud and Dave Bailey write about what happens in the Antarctica, because it's a perfect remote setting for Lovecraftian horror.
- In my opinion The Crevasse is the best and most chilling story in this collection (I admit that I may be a bit biased in my opinion about this story, because I love Lovecraftian horror and dark fantasy).
The Monsters of Heaven:
- The Monsters of Heaven is the winner of the Shirley Jackson Award.
- This short story is a powerful and sad story about Brian who has lost his son.
- The author writes about Brian's life and marriage in an excellent way.
- Sunbleached is one of the best and most impressive vampire stories I've ever read. It's a brilliantly dark story about Joshua and his relationship with a vampire.
- The author writes excellently about Joshua's life and feelings.
- It's great that the author avoids typical vampire clichés in this story.
North American Lake Monsters:
- In this fantastic story a weird looking monster is found on the shore.
- This is an excellent story about family life and relationships between family members.
The Way Station:
- The Way Station is a strong and well written story about a homeless man who is haunted by the past.
- I enjoyed reading this story, because it was a good story and the author wrote well about the happenings and the protagonist's confusion.
The Good Husband:
- This is an amazing and haunting story about Sean and Kate and their problems.
- I liked this story very much. It's one of the best and most powerful stories in this collection.
Nathan Ballingrud's stories are disturbing and sad, but all of them are beautifully written stories. Each of these stories has a deep emotional impact on the readers, because the author writes about the happenings in a touching and disturbing way. I think that everybody who reads these stories will be moved (and also shocked) by them.
The author paints vivid and stunning images with his words about life, love, loss and loneliness. He writes fluently about complex human relationships and all the emotions related to them, and he also writes boldy about domestic problems. He has added so much emotion to his stories that the readers will be able to feel what the protagonists feel and how the problems affect them.
The horror that rises from domestic problems is real horror and it creates an unsettling atmosphere. When horror is rooted in reality, the result is often stunningly shocking, because the readers feel a connection to the darkness. The author shows that bad things can happen to anybody and under the right circumstances all of us are capable of acting in strange and unexpected ways that may cause grief and suffering to ourselves and also to others. He also shows that other people may hurt us and their actions may affect us greatly.
Difficult relationships and domestic problems create a realistic atmosphere that will linger on the reader's mind. These things aren't easy, and you may feel sorry for the characters for what they must endure. The characters in these stories feel realistic and the choices they make are made out of love, necessity or desperation. The choices that the protagonists make may break the reader's heart, because for example, in You Go Where It Takes You the protagonist does a difficult and heartbreaking decision at the end of the story.
One of the best things about this collection is that the author doesn't sugarcoat the happenings and lets readers read about real problems (there are supernatural elements in these stories, but almost everything is connected at least partly to reality). You won't find easy and comfortable stories in this collection, because the author isn't easy on his characters. It's great that the author has had courage to write bleak and grim stories, because they feel refreshingly different when compared to horror stories written by other authors.
There are monsters in these monsters, but the real monsters are people. The people in these stories are capable of all kinds of monstrosities, because they're driven to desperate acts by difficult circumstances. The author shows that people are capable of doing all kinds of things in the name of love and loneliness.
Nathan Ballingrud's stories remind me a bit of Christopher Barzak's literary stories, and also of certain stories written by Laird Barron, but they're totally original stories. Nathan Ballingrud has a voice of his own and he uses it in a perfect way. His stories are sad, grim, bleak and unsettling, and they will both shock and surprise you.
North American Lake Monsters is an essential collection for everybody who likes quality horror, dark fantasy and speculative fiction. This short story collection is literary and dark speculative fiction at its best and it can be recommended for horror readers who want to read quality stories.
Very highly recommended!