Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
In addition to the commendable task of reprinting in elegant hardback editions classical gems of the past, Tartarus Press during the years has been also devoted to discover and launchÂ new literary talents . Fine examples are Mark Samuels, Quentin S Crisp and Angela Slatter, just to mention a few.
The author of the new Tartarus collection, Jason A Wychoff, is an American writer whose work, so far, has never appeared in print, not even in magazines. Therefore, this represents an incredible and fortunate discovery because the sixteen tales featured in the volume offer an extraordinary treasury of weird fiction of high literary value.
The title story, â€œBlack Korseâ€ is an offbeat, mysterious pieceÂ told in a perfect narrative style, revolving around a horse inherited by a man who has with the animal an ambivalent, complex relationship.
â€œThe Highwall Horrorâ€ is an uneasyÂ tale which would have pleased both Franz Kafka and Dino Buzzati, where a man discovers an alien, impossible reality behind the wall of his office, while â€œIntermediaryâ€ is a tense story where an archeological expedition in the Andes results in a tragedy brought about by greed.
In â€œThe Bells, Then The Birdsâ€ a haunted town is retraced by a young man following the source of a melancholy folk song, while in the puzzling but enticing â€œThe Truckerâ€™s Storyâ€ some people unaccountably lose a portion of their lives.
â€œThe Night of His Sisterâ€™s Engagementâ€ is a fascinatingÂ piece imbued with an enchanted, dream-like atmosphere, in which minor events taking place around a lake acquire a threatening meaning.
â€œThe Mauve Blotâ€ â€“ where an inadequate mother tries to cope with a new job and her childrenâ€™s care after leaving a gambling husband- is an excellent mainstream story slightly spoiled by the unconvincing intrusion of a paranormal aspect.
Much more accomplished is â€œA Willow Cat in Meadowlarkâ€ an insightful , unnerving tale featuring a young woman fleetingly become the beneficiary of a dead woman wrongly identified as her mother.
The atmospheric â€œHair and Nailsâ€ is a story of black magic where a treasure buried in a cemetery by a deceased undertaker is finally unearthed.
Among so many great stories my own favourite remains â€œKnottâ€™s Letterâ€ the charming report of an unlucky, tragic expedition on the Sasquatchâ€™s trail Â across forbidding mountains and hidden caves.
This is an astonishing debut book by a superb writer, whose stories remind us how rewarding and bewitching good fiction can be.