When Things Get Dark by Ellen Datlow #BookReview

CriminOlly thinks: An excellent short story collection in its own right, and an admirable tribute to the work of Shirley Jackson. 5/5

Title: When Things Get Dark | Editor: Ellen Datlow | Publisher: Titan Books | Pages: 384 | Publication date: 21st September 2021 | Source: Publisher | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No


Review

I went into this short story collection slightly nervous and not really knowing what to expect. I love short stories and I love Shirley Jackson (especially her short stories!), but could a group of modern authors really do justice to her legacy? The answer is a resounding yes. ‘When Things Get Dark’ is a fantastic collection and editor Ellen Datlow has done a brilliant job of pulling together stories that really do evoke Jackson’s work without just being slavish cover versions of her hits.

There are eighteen stories contained within and whilst I didn’t love every single one (a couple are let down by weak endings), the vast majority are very good or excellent. They range from a few pages to almost novella length and cover a variety of themes and styles. As you’d expect, female protagonists and slightly creepy small towns abound, but the tales are sufficiently different from each other that the book never feels same.

You’ll doubtless recognise at least a few of the authors on the contents page, and the big names like Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman and Stephen Graham Jones all deliver. In fact Oates’ story of casual but chilling child abuse and Malerman’s disorienting dystopian tale of a world where maths is banned were two of my favourites.

I’d also call out the first story ‘Funeral Birds’ by M Rickert and the final two, ‘Tiptoe’ by Laird Barron and ‘Skinder’s Veil’ by Kelly Link. All three felt like classic Jackson to me. Beautifully crafted slices of mystery where there is a very real menace lurking just out of sight. They’ve all lingered with me since I finished them in a way that is both unsettling and deeply satisfying.

If you’re a Jackson fan, or even if you aren’t, ‘When Things Get Dark’ is definitely worth picking up. Short stories don’t get the attention they used to nowadays, this collection acts as a reminder that when they’re done well they can be every bit as rich and memorable as a novel.


Synopsis

Legendary editor, Ellen Datlow, collects today’s best horror writers in tribute to the genius of Shirley Jackson. Featuring Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Hand and more.

A collection of new and exclusive short stories inspired by, and in tribute to, Shirley Jackson.

Shirley Jackson is a seminal writer of horror and mystery fiction, whose legacy resonates globally today. Chilling, human, poignant and strange, her stories have inspired a generation of writers and readers.

This anthology, edited by legendary horror editor Ellen Datlow, will bring together today’s leading horror writers to offer their own personal tribute to the work of Shirley Jackson.

Featuring Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Hand, Cassandra Khaw, Karen Heuler, Benjamin Percy, John Langan, Laird Barron, M. Rickert, Seanan McGuire, and Genevieve Valentine.

Warnings

Content Warning: Child abuse, self harm

Tolerance Warning: All good

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