I once got into an argument with a professor at Cal State, San Marcos, over the merits of genre fiction. He referred to it as “trash fiction,” something that carries no weight because the subject matter isn’t some privileged asshole wandering around a big, scary city to find himself. Well, if I were still a student I’d march into his office and drop a copy of Brian Evenson’s astounding collection A Collapse of Horses onto his desk.
See, Evenson is as literary as they come and still within these pages are surreal mysteries, dystopian tales, and moments of horror even ol’ Stevie King wishes would creep into his nightmares. So, let’s drop the labels because when it comes to A Collapse of Horses they don’t mean a damn thing.
What’s remarkable about these stories is Evenson’s ability to turn familiar, mundane things into objects of terror. A window becomes one man’s mark of obsession in the appropriately titled “Mirror,” while in Bearheart™ a childhood toy serves as a symbol of pain for a husband and wife that have lost their child—I’d be willing to bet Evenson could turn that coffee cup you are sipping out of right now into something malicious.
My two favorite stories in this collection were the gnarly post-apocalyptic “Any Corpse,” and the dread-filled “Cult.” The beauty here is how different they are, but both manage to elicit the same feelings of fear in the reader. “Any Corpse” takes place in a world where it rains flesh and humans have gone back to living in caves. This is by far the most gruesome of stories in this book, but Evenson’s prose never breaks the gratuity meter.
“He waited. At length the congealed blood became liquid and warm. It oozed out of the wounds, slowly becoming paler, finally stopping. The fibers were called to action beneath the gelid breast, and the nerves mimicked the instinct of life. The eyes shuttered open, like the eyes of a doll. They roiled independently in their sockets, only slowly coming to focus on him. The eyeballs were already losing their turgidity, he saw, beginning to slowly deflate.”
“Cult,” which focuses on one man’s struggle to not fall victim again to his abusive ex-girlfriend is a master class in character and building tension. With every phone call from Star, our protagonist gets closer and closer to breaking down and fulfilling her wishes. The psychology at play here is heartbreaking and rings true to anyone that’s found themselves in an abusive relationship where you believe your partner’s shortcomings are somehow your fault.
“Even lying there on the floor, clutching his side, waiting for her to call the ambulance, he had already begun to forgive her, to consider how her stabbing him had been, in a way, if you really thought about it, his fault.”
There isn’t an ounce of fat on this collection. Evenson’s stories are lean; every sentence is carefully constructed for maximum effect and every detail is integral to the story. This was my first introduction to Evenson’s work and I already know that I’m going to be a lifetime fan. So, pick this bad boy up, and word on the street is his new book The Warren just dropped too.
Anthony Trevino is the author of the New Bizarro Author Series 2015-16 novella King Space Void published by Eraserhead Press, the horror comic Fruition, and also made an appearance in the True Detective tribute anthology Walk Hand in Hand into Extinction from CLASH books.