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Old 12th Nov 2010, 10:51   #1
Noumenon
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Default Worse Than Myself - Stories by Adam Golaski

Adam Golaski's collection of strange stories emerges from behind a nicely suggestive image of a deep forest in deep winter, the uniform white of snow contrasting the progressive fade of black trunks to grey with the distance. Divided into two sections - New England & New York and Montana - Golaski presents eleven unsettling experiences which, while not necessarily unfamiliar to readers of horror, all benefit from quality and style not generally associated with the genre.

Worse Than Myself
gives us the vampire, the ghost, zombies and cults, unseen presences and misceleneous other creatures of prey. In each case there is a flow to the narrative that quickly draws the reader in, an interesting character or distinctive tone from which an increasing sense of unease can grow, in many cases flourishing into something powerful and effective... but not all.

The scattering of sub-genre topics might make this seem like a horror writing exercise - here's what I can do with this type, and this, now this - but Golaski succeeds in crafting not just a variety of themes. He writes male and female protagonists, adult and juvenile, with equal attention to depth and detail, creating "real" people, and when one does encounter something of a cypher in these pages it is clear that there is a reason for it.

I must state my position clearly: I found this to be an engrossing collection of stories, definitely recommended (in my blog posting of this review, I credit Bill here). I have not a single regret in making the purchase; English language books being something of a luxury here on the continent it cost a bit, but after finishing the first piece I was compelled (like at least one character in The Man from the Peak, widely considered one of Golaski's best) to continue until I'd consumed them all.

However, this may not have been the best approach. While the stories all share a high standard of writing, often they share other things as well. Golaski has a tendency to stop, and sometimes he does so at the perfect moment. The Man from the Peak would be a prime example: nothing he could have added would have improved the story and the lingering sensation the reader is left with is half the pleasure, one of several in this particular case. The first tale, The Animator's House, similarly establishes an authentic world of non-horror in which to plant its seed, similarly ends before a moment of absolute closure while, similarly, leaving no doubt as to what is still to come. In such cases, Golaski hits his target with frightening accuracy.

In other cases, this stopping leaves something to be desired. Like an end. Two stories from the Montana section, What Water Reveals and The Dead Gather on the Bridge to Seattle, while far from bad by any stretch, suffer this way. It is arguable; in What Water Reveals, we have a story about alcoholism in which perhaps the approaching horror is secondary to the mental journey of the hero, but such was the effectiveness of the characterisation I felt dissatisfied when the ultimate confrontation was left unrecorded, as if my TV broke just as the hooded man cornered the very last girl in the sorority. With The Dead Gather... it was more like it broke before the movie got going. Decent first act, sure, but what happens next?

At the risk of spoiling on this point, one story in particular stood guilty for me. They Look Like Little Girls is an ensemble piece: four passengers on an uncomfortable overnight Greyhound journey are woken from their nightmares only to be abandoned at a cold and lonely shack in the middle of nowhere. Soon strange creatures draw in, circle the flimsy shelter, creatures worryingly familiar to them. First one, then another, then another of the group recall their nightmare for us, between each the situation outside escalating, until finally salvation arrives only to reveal itself as doom. There follows a moment of transformative horror - and then follows immediately the end of the text, oddly short by one dream memory and with the fate of the group left unseen. Okay, we can assume the worst, but in this case for me too much has been left out. Here I find something simply incomplete, not deliciously uncertain.

As must be clear now I had a few gripes with Worse Than Myself, but even in the examples above it must be said that there is real quality on show. Golaski writes well. His imagination is macabre and varied, his characters vivid and believable. Even when his stories miss the mark they don't leave you totally unscathed; but when they hit, they go right to the bone.



I hesitate, but go on to include the following link. Raw Dog Screaming Press has a YouTube channel, and upon it one will find a live reading by Golaski from maybe my favourite from the collection, The Animator's House. The book contains more than enough interesting writing to justify the purchase, but those who would like a taster can find it here - yet it is only a taster! That story continues...


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Old 29th Dec 2010, 18:41   #2
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Default Re: Worse Than Myself - Stories by Adam Golaski

Somehow, I missed this entirely. But great review, Nou. As it happens, this book should be arriving today, and I can't wait to get started. I can't speak to Worse Than Myself specifically, but I do know what you mean about reading a horror collection straight through, at least if it's a single author collection. Even someone like M. R. James can wear out his welcome if you just plow relentlessly through their stuff.

As you know, though, I loved "The Man from the Peak" enough that I may end up doing what you warn against. We shall see.
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Old 30th Dec 2010, 15:28   #3
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Default Re: Worse Than Myself - Stories by Adam Golaski

Just wanted to pop in briefly to say that I read "The Animator's House" last night. That story is bananas.
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Old 30th Dec 2010, 17:42   #4
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Default Re: Worse Than Myself - Stories by Adam Golaski

Heh heh heh. Yup.
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Old 30th Dec 2010, 19:51   #5
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Default Re: Worse Than Myself - Stories by Adam Golaski

I'm tempted to go with one of the stories you were less keen on next. Probably the zombie one, though I'm strangely interested in "They Look Like Little Girls" a) because you liked it least; and b) that title is oddly creepy.
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Old 30th Dec 2010, 21:45   #6
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Default Re: Worse Than Myself - Stories by Adam Golaski

To say I disliked any of them is a tricky call. After rereading this today, I was suddenly reminded of another... In The Cellar, second of the book which, while enjoying the customary sound characterisation, left me dissatisfied for another reason. Interested to see if you feel the same.
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