Monday, March 9, 2009

Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors

Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors is horror author Ronald Kelly’s first collection of short stories, and it is a frustrating book. Frustrating because you are torn between wanting to save these stories to read one at a time and make them last, and wanting to read it all at one sitting. I read it fairly quickly, then regretted I didn’t draw them out to make them last a little longer.

Up front, let me tell you I have a strong affinity for Kelly’s work. Ron and I are of the same approximate generation, I guess. While he was growing up in rural Tennessee, I was doing so in rural west Alabama, in a similar Southern community of Scot-Irish Protestants. I imagine if we’d known each other as boys, we’d have traded copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland. I’m sure there are things we would disagree on, but Ron’s South is the same as my South, so the characters that inhabit his stories seem familiar and real to me. I also believe the Southern story-telling tradition is hard to beat.

I’ve already talked about the circumstances of Ron’s return to writing, so I won’t belabor that again, but I will say this represents the first of his return in 2009 to the field, and I think he will be making a big splash. This, as I said, is his first big collection, and Cemetery Dance has done a great job, from the Alex McVey cover art to Kathleen Freeman’s very pleasing interior design. For those who see page count as an indication of value, it clocks in at over 400 pages, and contains (unless I miscounted) 32 stories, originally published between 1988 and 1992. Each story is approximately 20 pages in length, so if you can refrain from reading the whole thing at once, it would be nice for lunch and other breaks.

The stories are of consistently high quality. Being an audience for well-spun tales goes way back into our makeup, and Ron has a gift for this. Most collections are tremendously uneven, for obvious reason, but there wasn’t a story here that I didn’t like, a rare thing for me, since I’ve been accused of hating everything by a devoted reader.

It’s hard to pick out a favorite, but here are some highlights: A traveler makes a mistake when he gets off at “Exit 85”…a swamp version of Creature From the Black Lagoon in “Beneath Black Bayou”…the Universal Monsters win out in “Thinning The Herd”…the O. Henryish “Breakfast Serial”…antebellum lycanthropy in “Oh, Sordid Shame!”…John Steinbeck does vampires in “The Boxcar”…and assorted other ghoulies, ghosties, long-legged beasties, and monsters in human form. A number of them were familiar to me once I started them, having read them in their original published venue. This is definitely the book to beat for best collection of 2009.

Ron’s one of the nicest guys in the business, but he pulls no punches when he’s writing. These tales would chill your blood told around a campfire, and are long past due in being collected. Few people today are writing this kind of straight ahead old-school horror. There is also a good bit of wry humor, which has long been an integral part of horror fiction. Consider this a retrospective of the first part of Ronald Kelly’s career, and a teaser for what is to come. But for whatever reason, hie thee to Cemetery Dance and purchase this book now.

As a purely irrelevant, but nostalgic note: I’m the kind of person who reads the publishing history at the front of a book (and the liner notes on albums/CDs), and it is sobering how many of the publications that first hosted these stories no longer exist.

No comments: