Deciding to flip through it out of order, I read Donald Burlesson’s “Snow Cancellations” first and got the wrong impressions. That story is a simple but striking tale about two children listening to school cancellations over the radio. Their parents are away, they’re home alone, and gradually the eerie announcer begins announcing other things are cancelled – like the mill where Dad works. One looks out his window, and the mill is gone. It’s slightly surreal and pulled off with a great tone of foreboding that is never too heavy for what’s going on or what’s coming. It had been a long time since I’d read a story that just told a story, and the charm was strong.
But almost none of the other stories either try to do this or do it well. The theme of inescapable of oppression seems to have replaced any actual fear in all but the above, “Blanca,” “No Sharks in the Med,” "The Last Day of Miss Dorinda Molyneaux," and “Bad News.” Of the few stories that manage to do anything worthwhile, “Bad News” is the boldest, tossing some murderous little creature at us within pages and forcing a family to fight it to death to the close. It’s the complete reverse of more than half of the stories in the volume (and about half their length), creating tension through action, where its counterparts take far too long to do anything, and more often than not explain the novelty away when they should be expressing it.
I’m all for Literary Horror, but the sub-genre is not a blank check that bails authors out of having to tell a good story. “Closed Circuit” essentially exists as an anti-consumerist diatribe with no redeeming entertainment value, and several others spend more time talking about mundane life or hard times in Euro-Russia than in conveying their actual premises. Something like "Twitch Technicolor," a thinly veiled and sometimes humorous attack on updating classic films, loses much of its charm in this kind of company. The presence of something like Brian Lumley’s “No Sharks in the Med,” which deftly mixes the fear of suspicion with insight into how people judge one another, only makes the shortcomings of all the other stories more disappointing. As a time capsule of Horror twenty years ago, the collection’s greatest accomplishment is showing that confusing horrible situations for Horror is not merely a modern mistake.