Book Review: The Nameless Dark by T.E. Grau

“Grau takes you down dark, horrific pathways, keeping you on the edge of your seat and reading until the final, petrifying sentence.”

Weird fiction is enjoying something of a renaissance of late, possibly motivated by such authors as Simon Strantzas, Laird Barron, and Stephen Graham Jones, but perpetuated by newer faces on the scene such as Daniel Braum, Michael Wehunt, John Langan, and Lucy A. Snyder. All of these authors are testing the borders of the strange, pushing the genre in new and often brilliant, heretofore untested directions and dragging a whole slew of willingly captivated readers in their wake. Another such author that belongs on that list—a damn good one—is T.E. Grau, author of, The Nameless Dark.

For a debut collection, The Nameless Dark has had an impressive outing since its release, being nominated for a Shirley Jackson award in 2015, named a runner up for Best Fiction Collection right here at This Is Horror, and garnering the 2015 Dark Muse Award for Best Single Author Collection. There’s good reason for all the accolades and attention the book has received. With undertones of Lovecraft and Bradbury, The Nameless Dark gathers together fourteen macabre tales of the weird and the strange, starting out strong with ‘Tubby’s Big Swim’, a dark, sad, sometimes humorous tale of a lonely boy in search of the perfect pet. With that story, Grau demonstrates his literary prowess and sharp wit right out of the starting gate, setting the tone for a collection that only gets better as it progresses.

One of the first things you’ll notice as you begin reading Grau’s work is his command of the ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ concept. Grau is a master of imagery, painting word pictures as clear and crisp as a high-definition camera on the screen of your imagination, as in the following passage in ‘The Truffle Pig’:

“Murder was still hot in primal limbs back then, and untimely death was an unfortunate neighbor to every house. It was endured, a wintered dip in daily lives. But in these days of lace and buttermilk, death was marched into sitting rooms and made to dance, as a brush with oblivion became exclusive to the point of aristocratic fetish.”

‘The Truffle Pig’ is one of several sharp little vignettes interspersed throughout the book, too short to really go into detail without spoiling it. A story that takes historic events and bends them into a cosmic theme, it’s exemplary of a goodly portion of the collection with its strong Lovecraftian flavors. That said, not every story in the book fits that mold. Grau has his own version of the weird and horrific, as demonstrated by such stories as ‘Expat’, in which a man wakes in a strange apartment with a dead body on the floor and no memory of how he, or it, got there. And then there’s ‘Beer & Worms’, another very short story. It’s extremely effective and is a prime example of Grau’s tendency to take his fiction in unexpected directions.

Like all great stories, the thing that really resonates throughout The Nameless Dark is character. With as little backstory as possible, the characters jump off the page, seeming real, sympathetic, frequently tragic, and so immensely likeable you can’t help but care about them. And one of the best types of characters Grau writes about is children. Alden, the protagonist in ‘Tubby’s Big Swim’ is a great example of this, as is Emily in ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’, the tale of a little girl who searches for her deceased mother in the stars. Both stories are tragic, achingly sad, and rife with the raw emotion that he brings to almost all his tales. In addition to character development and imagery, another great strength that Grau brings to the page is an incredible control of pacing. He takes his time where he needs to, feeding out pieces of backstory, and he rockets you along like a bat out of hell where appropriate, leaving you with no choice but to hang on tight and enjoy the ride. A ride that is over all too soon.

As with the opening story, the final story, ‘The Mission’, is an extraordinarily strong story. Set in the days just after the American Civil War, at first it seems to be a straightforward western, but it quickly takes a turn toward the weird, demonstrating again how versatile and original Grau’s work can be. That story is also an excellent sampling of his colorfully poetic language, his prose entrancing and beautiful:

“Farm boys ain’t exactly expert trackers. Good to have at your side in a saloon dust up, as those coffee can fists always found purchase, but rosy-cheeked plowboys weren’t born bloodhounds like those with a more suspicious nature. “

T.E. Grau has a way of writing tales that are at once terrifying and wondrous, and what’s really remarkable about the stories in The Nameless Dark is that there isn’t a single story in the bunch that’s anything less than brilliant. Grau takes you down dark, horrific pathways, keeping you on the edge of your seat and reading until the final, petrifying sentence. For a young author, he brings a maturity to his fiction that is refreshing and ultimately extremely satisfying. To say that he’s an author with a lot of promise would be an understatement, and to say that he more than fulfills that promise in The Nameless Dark would be spot on. T.E. Grau is an author we’ll be keeping an eye on for a long time to come, and we know you will too.


Publisher: Lethe Press
eBook: (278pp)
Release Date: 31 July 2015

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1 comment

  1. T.E. Grau

    Man, that’s one hell of a thoughtful, in-depth review. Thanks so much, Shane. I’m so happy you dug the collection.

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