Sometimes you hear a writer's name over and over and know you should check out their work, but with the deluge of books on the market, they can get lost in the shuffle. One writer I heard a lot of talk about but never really read any of their work was Brian Evenson. Then one day I ran across his short story A Seaside Town, in the anthology Year’s Best Weird Fiction vol 3. It blew me away. A perfect mix of nebulous dread and ambiguity. Then I ran across his collection A Collapse of Horses at a local bookstore. That collection left me unnerved and confused in the best possible way. I would say I enjoyed reading A Collapse of Horses as much as my first readings of Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco or Kiernan’s The Ammonite Violin. Which my constant readers can tell you that is of the highest praise from me. Well, Evenson has dropped another collection upon an unsuspecting public. Song for the Unraveling of the World just came out and I rushed to get a copy. I was not disappointed. Evenson is a writer who writes in many different genres, but for me, I prefer his work that is more dedicated horror. And in terms of horror, A Collapse of Horses and Song for the Unraveling of the World are companion pieces and the most direct examples of his darker work. They both mix and match genres and influences, but both are top tier works of hallucinogenic horror.
A Collapse of Horses was a pandora's box of unsetting work. It showcased his use of genre to set up expectations in the reader that he had no intention of fulfilling, instead taking a left turn into absolute insanity. For instance, you would start a story that seemed like a horror-flavored western, only to leave the story not even sure what you just read, or if you had actually had some kind of aneurysm and hallucinated the entire reading experience. A Collapse of Horses is an absolute attack on the reader. Bodies that should be dead are talking to you, horses are neither alive nor dead, dark shapes lurk in the trees or across the street always just past direct sight, people blend and blur their personalities, reading Evenson is like being on the verge of having a post-acid trip anxiety attack. I have a lot of favorites in this collection, but the one that left the most striking impression on me was the title story A Collapse of Horses, I actually had to take a break after reading it, the sense of a menacing delirium that engulfed me after reading that story was overwhelming.
Evenson’s new collection, Song for the Unraveling of the World, has a more scifi/speculative flavor. Whereas in A Collapse of Horses, which focused more on stories that took place in a more realistic and current setting, only to twist what you thought was familiar in unsettlingly surreal ways, to explore the unknowable nature of reality, Song for the Unraveling of the World focuses on the interchangeable nature of appearances and the skin, often in more fictional worlds or far future settings. Skins are discarded, exchanged, and worn throughout this collection. It certainly adds a more body horror flavor to this one. There is also some more pulpy scifi and even some nods to Lovecraft, which makes for a wonderful variance in the stories. But to me, his strongest work again is his most mind-twisting work. My personal favorite may be Born Stillborn, a noxious tale of a man who sees a therapist in the daytime, and the therapist who visits him in his room at night. They may be the same therapist, or they may not. They may have his best intentions at heart, or they may not.
I feel that A Collapse of Horses may be the greatest horror collection of the past ten years. So the expectations were ridiculously high for his new one. I was not disappointed. Different enough to feel fresh, but still everything that I look for in a collection from Evenson. I highly recommend you don’t be like me and wait on reading his work. He is at the prime of his talents and may just be the most important horror writer working today.