“Griffin’s command of language is clear: his prose is exquisite, his descriptions divine.”
An accomplished and renowned author of Weird Horror, it is clear to see that Michael Griffin is going places. With short stories in Black Static, Apex and Strange Aeons to his name, as well as stories in the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated anthologies The Grimscribe’s Puppets (edited by Joseph S. Pulver Sr., 2013) and The Children of Old Leech (edited by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele, 2014), and Word Horde releasing his debut collection The Lure of Devouring Light this year, he is quickly establishing himself as a master of the genre.
With his latest release, the novella An Ideal Retreat, from Dim Shores, Griffin again displays his love for the Weird. There are no conventional monsters to be found in this story; the horrors held within are very human in nature. We are immediately introduced to our narrator, Noone Raddox, at once equal parts relatable and unreliable, as she drives alone towards the old, run-down shack of her husband’s family. We quickly realise that she isn’t just making the journey through a sense of duty towards the family, but that she is actually escaping from a convenient yet unfulfilling marriage to Ian. Despite her attempts to reconcile her husband’s behaviour with the idea that he is spending so much time at work to afford her a life of leisure, she is gradually coming to the realisation that she is no longer in control of her own life, has not been for some time. So she is all too happy to take this opportunity to have some time to herself and get her mind in order, even if it does mean driving four hours from her home to check on the old holiday home that has only recently been vacated by her brother-in-law, Jodah, the black sheep who has spent most of his life in one scrape or another, rehab or a state of desperation.
This is one area where Griffin excels at his craft; he can clearly portray the very human side of his characters without resorting to stereotypes. He paints a three-dimensional landscape and fills it with three-dimensional characters with depth and flaws that the reader can recognise from their own experiences. Noone is in no way perfect and this is shown through her growing dependence on pills and wine. She describes hearing a voice. Despite it being her own inner monologue, she doesn’t seem to have much control over it, constantly finding herself at odds with her own conscience. All of this throws into doubt her strange experiences which begin when she arrives at the “shack” to find a modern and immaculate two-storied home surrounded by a sculptured landscape and beautiful gardens. Despite questioning her own perceptions and thinking she may have the wrong address, she double checks the house number and manages to open the front door with the keys that Ian provided.
But the outward appearance of the ideal retreat is only the beginning of the strange occurrences. At first, Noone feels herself rejuvenated by the seemingly tailored surroundings and the kitchen that always has her favourite food (and wine) and fully stocked medicine cabinet. But Griffin is always layering the story with moments of creeping terror that leave us questioning Noone’s sense of reality. Did the scary thing she thinks just happened really just happen? Or is it just the booze and Xanax playing tricks? The events soon take a devious turn when Noone gains entry to the ancient basement of the building and finds that she is not alone, and some of her questions are answered, for better or worse. Will the answers bring her peace and allow her to return to her husband with a clear mind? Or will she come to an altogether different end? Or will it be something completely unexpected? Given the kind of stories that Griffin has become known for, it will not be straightforward, or boring.
It’s not just the story and conclusion that will leave you breathless. Griffin’s command of language is clear; his prose is exquisite, his descriptions divine. His style is sometimes poetic, sometimes hypnotic, always entertaining. For example:
“But what mattered more than illumination in darkness was that not an hour went by without Noone uncovering some new aspect, some detail previously overlooked and now revealed to be interesting or useful in a way never before realized.”
“Whatever encyclopedia of unresolved issues and compromises had diminished her life back home, here in this new unknown, submerged within the biting hot protection of the water, she remained beyond harm, unassailable.”
Not only do these passages present us with information relevant to the character’s state of mind and the direction of the story, but it does so in such a beautiful way that we can’t help but go back and read them again, just to experience them one more time. They are the work of an author enjoying his craft and consistently producing the best work of his young career. The Horror community has another star shining bright in Mike Griffin and it’s to the benefit of horror readers everywhere. Long may the good work continue.
Publisher: Dim Shores
Release Date: 22 November 2016
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