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Book Review: Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods by Bracken MacLeod

“MacLeod packs emotion and power into his words, delivering terror and tenderness in equal measure as the story requires.”

 

Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods is the debut short story collection from Bracken MacLeod, the author of Stranded. Having found critical acclaim with Stranded, MacLeod’s collection is a significant change of pace from the snowbound inhabitants of his latest novel, yet despite the change of scenery, the quality of the writing is unerringly high.

Short story collections can be a difficult beast to tame, they can expose weaknesses in an author’s repertoire or they can strengthen already solid reputations. Thankfully, MacLeod’s poise as a writer shines throughout this collection, cementing the buzz around him as an up and comings writer within our genre. Whilst the stories collected here are varied in terms of both setting and characters, they are united by quality and the satisfaction that they provide for the reader.

Three clear weapons in MacLeod’s arsenal shine through in this book. Firstly, the variety of stories collected here is incredible, no two stories ring the same and each one varies in its setting and tone. There can be occasions in a short story collection when the reader can get a sense of déjà vu, that similar scenarios are played out throughout the stories, only phrased or set differently. MacLeod smashes that notion apart by presenting stories that range from touching to the outright twisted.

Secondly, as with his plots, MacLeod’s characters are not only believable but unique. Each protagonist in his stories has unique motives, quirks and speech patterns. MacLeod’s characters are the anchors of his stories, he weaves backstory and detail in around them without disrupting the plot.

Thirdly, the quality of the prose itself stands out. MacLeod’s words are sharp. Whilst care is taken with description and exposition is handled with skill, not a word is wasted throughout the book. MacLeod also shows skill with pacing, balancing stories that slowly smoulder with those that jump straight into the action. MacLeod delivers grim, reality anchored situations and describes them in enough to detail to drag the reader down into the page and into the grime of story with him.

At its peaks, Thirteen Views delivers stories that linger with the reader, leaving a mark behind like staring straight at the sun. From the opening story ‘Still Day: An Ending’, a straightforward, almost poetic piece about a corpse that is swiftly followed by ‘Something I Said’, and its gloriously twisted denouement, there is no escape from the emotional damage MacLeod inflicts upon his audience.

‘Pure Blood and Evergreen’ twists perceptions on traditional horror tropes, bringing fresh life to well-worn ground. ‘The Boy Who Dreamt He Was A Bat’ is perhaps the most emotionally affecting of all the stories in the collection, a tale of abuse and damage and dreams of better things. Along with this, ‘All Dreams Die In The Morning’ is another story that delivers its blows more subtly than other stories here.

However, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Breakfast Club or I Don’t Like Mondays’ and stories such as ‘Blood Makes The Grass Grow’ show MacLeod shifting gears into more overt horror territory whilst retaining MacLeod’s mastery of pacing, delivery and character building. Whilst delivering a twist in a short story is almost expected within the horror genre, MacLeod makes the curveballs he delivers count because whether you love or hate his characters, MacLeod makes you take notice of them very quickly, for better or worse.

Elsewhere in the collection, ‘Ciudad de los Niños’ plays the disturbed child card well, suggesting the best elements of ‘Children of the Corn’ and delivering a gut punch ending. ‘The Blood and the Body’ keeps its card close to its chest, telling the story of a jealous girlfriend and an attractive stranger before twisting the knife on the reader. ‘Some Other Time’ is a story of lust and evil, taking place in a claustrophobic nightclub setting where MacLeod’s skill makes the reader feel as disorientated as his characters. ‘Morgenstern’s Last Act’ delivers a clever twist on the classic carnival act tale, whereas ‘All Dreams Die In The Morning’ skilfully plays with emotions and the consequences of actions in a person’s life.

‘Mine, Not Yours’, is never less than tense and in part repulsive, driving the reader along with a horrible inevitability. ‘In The Bones’ showcases MacLeod’s class as a writer, veering away from the obscene in his choice of language, to deliver a skilful and lingering ending. Final story ‘Khatam’ carries along a similar vein, focussing on MacLeod’s choice of theme of loss and the devastation it brings. ‘Reminisce’ and ‘Looking For The Death Trick’ show MacLeod’s knack for character, framing individuals immediately and bringing their quirks out for the reader to analyse. The eponymous story, ‘Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods’, is an emotional strangler, tense and gripping.

Thirteen Views is a high-quality collection, matching that of Stranded and if anything, allowing MacLeod to show off his talent across varied situations. MacLeod’s reputation as a skilful writer, one who can deliver high concepts, nuanced characters and the occasional shock ending is proven with aplomb here. MacLeod packs emotion and power into his words, delivering terror and tenderness in equal measure as the story requires. Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods is a triumphant continuation of MacLeod’s progression and growth as a writer, his work and reputation go from strength to strength, and on this evidence – long may it continue.

DAN HOWARTH

 

Publisher: ChiZine
eBook: 326pp
Release Date: 4 April 2017

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