Supernatural Fiction: Good vs Grue?

•September 28, 2007 • 1 Comment

Like all literary genres, this one has evolved over time to reflect changes in popular culture, societal mores and values, and world events, among other things. In recent decades, a trend towards more bloody, horrific, and sexual themes has become apparent. In many cases, modern purveyors of horror fiction seem engaged in trying to outgross and outsex one other with each new title. The results often end up as nothing more than ultra violent pornography. This trend seems to mirror a similar trend in horror cinema over the past twenty years or so, one which is becoming increasingly disturbing.

Fortunately for those of us who appreciate a more subtle and psychological approach to our chilling tales, there are a number of writers working in the genre today who deliver in this regard. Two of these are Australian author Terry Dowling and American author Thomas Tessier. Despite a largely more cerebral approach to their subject matter, their stories are often dark and disturbing, and do not shy away from adult themes. Cases-in-point are Tessier’s 2000 Ghost Music and Dowling’s 2006 Basic Black.

Both titles, currently out of print from Cemetery Dance, are effective but uneven collections of each author’s supernatural short stories. I admit to thinking “huh?” after finishing a few of the stories in each book, but this does happen to me on occasion. Each time it does, I first wonder what I might have missed while reading the story, and then I wonder whether the problem lay with me or with the author. But don’t let this deter you: check out one or both titles, if you can find them in some form. In fact, the single most eerie, unnerving, and downright disturbing story I have read since Ramsey Campbell’s The Pattern is Tessier’s innocently titled In Praise of Folly. It has a “quiet” yet shudderingly chilling ending that should make your blood run cold. It did mine…