Book Review: Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt

Michael Wehunt draws the stories in Greener Pastures from a well of imagination as deep and wide as the unknowable cosmos!

When we think of weird horror fiction there are several names definitive of the sub-genre that we tend to think of. Names like Robert W. Chambers, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clarke Ashton Smith come to mind, as does Arthur Machen to some degree. But this is a new generation and there is a group of contemporary authors who are taking the weird in new, previously uncharted, directions. Authors such as Kelly Link, Brian Evenson, Nathan Ballingrud, and Stephen Graham Jones are a few, but there are countless others that are proving to be just as fresh and exciting. One of those is Michael Wehunt, author of the debut collection, Greener Pastures.

In Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt takes horror and the weird and turns it into a thing that is entirely his own, bringing us a blend of chilling horror, Kafkaesque transformations, and literary experimentation, creating a mashup that would fit just as comfortably within the sub-genre of neo-noir as it does in the new weird. From the moment you start reading the lead in story, ‘Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness’, you’ll realize that you’re holding something special in your hands. It’s the story of two sisters infected by the darkness of a bleeding mountain and bestowed with the blessing — or curse — of near immortality. One of very few nods to Lovecraftian weird fiction, it’s an amazing story exemplary of the entire collection. Wehunt has a conversational, easy going voice that’s pleasant to follow and captivating in its poetic, pitch-perfect cadence, and his ability to evoke a sense of dread in the most mundane of settings is often deeply disturbing and always distinctly emotional and human.

In ‘Onanan’, another tiny nod to Lovecraft with a Kafka style theme, you begin to see the versatility and flexibility that Wehunt brings to the table, and again in ‘A Discreet Music’, a dark tale of love, loss, and transformation with strong flavors of Aickman and Kafka. From there, he takes us on a tour of the weird unlike anything we’ve experienced before with stories like ‘The Devil Beneath the Maison Blue’, a heartrending ghost story that deals with themes of loss, child abuse, and retribution, or the subtle Christian/cosmic hybrid of ‘The Dancers’.

In his introduction to the collection, Simon Strantzas says, “These stories will get in your head and change you in ways you won’t expect”, and it’s as good an assessment of this collection as could be found. There are stories of angels and deities, of monsters unseen and humans who do horrible things. There are stories of transformation both glorious and hideous, and stories that disturb on a visceral, almost primal level, such as the found-footage literary experiment that is ‘October Film Haunt: Under the House’. This is possibly the highlight of the book, a standout story in a collection of standout stories, and one that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last word. When you finish it you’ll feel more like you’ve just watched the horrific story unfold in high definition 3D rather than having read it on the page.

In ‘Beside Me Sleeping in the Wilderness’ Wehunt gave us the perfect beginning to this fascinating collection, and in ‘Bookends’ he gives us the perfect finale, telling a story of a man dealing with the death of his wife and unable to be a father to the child she died giving birth to. While there are no supernatural elements to this heartbreaking tale, it is possibly the most disturbing one of the bunch, but what makes it such a great denouement is the small note of hope it gives us, leaving us with the feeling that, while all is not well, there is the chance that it will be eventually.

A relative newcomer on the horror scene, Michael Wehunt draws the stories in Greener Pastures from a well of imagination as deep and wide as the unknowable cosmos, delivering surprise upon surprise and horror after horror with the adroit mastery of a grizzled veteran. His prose is lyrical and moving, yet concise and to the point with not a word wasted on unnecessary exposition. Greener Pastures is a beautiful work and an amazing debut collection from a new author with all the tools he needs to tell a story and a great knowledge of their use. This is an author we’ll keep an eye on and hope to see much more from in the future.


Publisher: Shock Totem Publications
Paperback (238pp)
Release Date: 1 April 2016

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