At some point in your young life, you were introduced to the darkness. This awakening may have come in the form of a book or a children’s cartoon. You may have glimpsed it around the edges of your great aunt Eileen’s Christmas story; or, it could have slithered past as you made your way through a dim closet in search of a favorite toy. But no matter how you first perceived the darkness lurking at the edges of life, something about that mysterious beauty captured your imagination. Even now, as you read this, you seek it out in its many forms. Undoubtedly, on your journey to find the dark, you came across a fellow traveler in Shirley Jackson. 

Every acolyte of darkness has spent time at the altar of Jackson’s work. A first read of The Lottery is often a baptism for lovers of the splenic. The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle have transubstantiated countless readers from mere fiction fans into the horror devout. And the house at the center of The Sundial can take on biblical meaning under the right reader’s eyes. 

The authors collected in the anthology, When Things Get Dark (Titan Books), know first-hand the spiritual transcendence that occurs between the pages of Jackson’s work. Edited by the legendary Ellen Datlow, this collection brings together horror authors at the top of their game for a chance to play in the well-mannered suburban nightmare world Jackson conjured so well. Rarely does an anthology nail its central theme as effortlessly as the writers do here. From the tight, precise prose in Seanan McGuire’s “In the Deep Woods” to the claustrophobic perfection of Richard Kadrey’s “A Trip to Paris,” When Things Get Dark explodes off the page with the quiet electricity of Jackson’s greatest works.

Carmen Maria Machado’s “A Hundred Miles and a Mile” paints a delicate environmental portrait of a woman who has discovered life’s truths just a bit too late; while Joyce Carol Oates’s short story “Take Me, I am Free” tells a more complete story in a few hundred words than most authors can do in a lifetime. It’s a rare writer who can create memorable, well-rounded characters in short fiction, but John Langan does just that in the riveting and swift “Something Like Living Creatures.”

For those who prefer their horror on the literary side, Datlow has included such fine specimens as Laird Barron’s “Tiptoe,” which is sure to be considered one of the most unsettling literary anecdotes to publish in the genre this decade. And Kelly Link’s “Skinder’s Veil” is a rare treat for those who like their fiction both relatable and weird. This final story is worth the price of admission alone.

“Special Meal” by Josh Malerman is the absolute standout in a collection of pitch-perfect tales. To detail the plot here would be to ruin the sweet pain of the surprise, but readers would do well to slide a bookmark in between the pages to ensure they don’t miss this breathtaking piece of storytelling.

Lifelong horror devotees are well-versed in the works of editor Ellen Datlow, but even the most voracious of readers is sure to be swept away by the sheer magnitude of talent on display in When Things Get Dark

When Things Get Dark publishes September 21, 2021 from Titan Books.

Book cover for the "When Things Get Dark" anthology, featuring an illustration of Shirley Jackson's iconic cat-eye glasses and a woman walking off into the distance captured in the glass.

Looking for more short horror fiction? Check out Beyond the Veil.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: When Things Get Dark

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