Here With the Shadows
Steve Rasnic Tem
[Swan River Press]
Appalachian horror runs from the folksy to the kitsch. In Here With the Shadows, Steve Rasnic Tem grounds his short stories in the “weird” tradition, but quickly shifts focus to the horrors of the mundane. Loss and regret loom large as themes: empty homes are gutted and “autopsied” throughout, while the waves of the sea and the wind in the wheatfields speak of long-departed children. Special horror is reserved for the claustrophobic experiences of ageing. Stories repeatedly evoke the dread of losing sight, doubting memory, or, finally, waking up a frail and “cute” old man.
Familiar tropes are elegantly retold; the haunted house surfaces again and again as repository for dust, memories, and blame. The Cabinet Child plays with the myth of the dybbuk box, while in Breaking the Rules a list of folk superstitions drives a man to feverish distraction at an Appalachian Bates Motel.
But Tem’s storytelling is most powerful when he dramatizes loss: every ghost (a term conspicuously absent from the stories) was once the child, or sibling, or parent of somebody living, who now lives on inextricably connected to the dead. Loneliness is next to ghostliness, and the isolation and sorrow of the bereaved play a role in luring revenants to the door. These beloved shadows comfort Tem’s protagonists as much as they torment them. “Far better to choose an absence,” says one, “than to have an absence forced upon you.”
Words: Róisín Kiberd
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