Black Horse and other strange stories by Jason A Wyckoff. Book review

BLACK HORSE and Other Strange Stories  by Jason A Wyckoff, Tartarus Press  Hardcover £ 32.50

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 launch  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, “Black Korse” is an offbeat, mysterious piece  told in a perfect narrative style, revolving around a horse inherited by a man who has with the animal an ambivalent, complex relationship.

“The Highwall Horror” is an uneasy  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 “Intermediary” is a tense story where an archeological expedition in the Andes results in a tragedy brought about by greed.

In “The Bells, Then The Birds” a haunted town is retraced by a young man following the source of a melancholy folk song, while in the puzzling but enticing “The Trucker’s Story” some people unaccountably lose a portion of their lives.

“The Night of His Sister’s Engagement” is a fascinating  piece imbued with an enchanted, dream-like atmosphere, in which minor events taking place around a lake acquire a threatening meaning.

“The Mauve Blot” – where an inadequate mother tries to cope with a new job and her children’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 “A Willow Cat in Meadowlark” an insightful , unnerving tale featuring a young woman fleetingly become the beneficiary of a dead woman wrongly identified as her mother.

The atmospheric “Hair and Nails” 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 “Knott’s Letter” the charming report of an unlucky, tragic expedition on the Sasquatch’s trail  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.