Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It, Watching — It, Scary

While it's relatively rare for my stomach to start growling in hunger while reading about cannibalism, several of the stories in Elizabeth Massie's most recent short fiction collection, It, Watching, flung a healthy craving on me. Behind the gorgeous cover (featuring art by Ms. Massie's husband, Cortney Skinner), you'll find seventeen diverse short stories (plus one long poem), ranging from a Walking Dead-esque zombie tale ("Wet Birds") to a drama of personal revenge set in the Civil War ("Tintype"—which made me really hungry) to dark comedy ("Darla and Gina Try to Keep Out of Debt") to political allegory ("Pisspot Bay") to disturbing science fiction ("The Replacement"). Of course, there also plenty of the requisite spooky little horror tales.

Over thirty years or so, Ms. Massie has rightfully become one of the most respected names in the field of dark fiction, and if one should not understand why, then a full dose of It, Watching ought suffice to set one straight. One of Ms. Massie's most consistent and effective authorial traits is that her voice will lull you with a light and damn near comforting tone, only to turn nothing less than shocking in its assault on one's sensibilities, even when said sensibilities have been toughened by long experience with that voice. Mostly set in rural, isolated locations, these stories consistently emphasize a sense of personal isolation, of things being wrong, not just out there, but deep within the characters. As one is drawn into the narrative of each story, it's impossible not to feel a certain discombobulation, a feeling that something, somewhere, is off-kilter, even during the most prosaic of exchanges between characters. Tense dialogue is a hallmark of Ms. Massie's fiction, and almost unbearable tension pervades the best of these stories—"Don't Look at Me," "I Have a Little Shadow," and "The Well." Each have distinct supernatural overtones, each presents characters no less unsettling than the other-worldly elements.

It, Watching is 200-some pages of classic Elizabeth Massie fiction, some reprinted, some previously unpublished. While the reading here is not necessarily comfortable, it's compelling, and it's hard not to finish one story and tear right into the next.

Do not pass this collection by. Pick up It, Watching from here, in paperback or Kindle editions.

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