by Christopher Novas
A COLLAPSE OF HORSES by Brian Evenson
Published by: Coffee House Press
Release date: February 9, 2016
Have you ever seen a shadow on the highway pass by your car faster than your eye could follow? Have you ever seen shapes you thought were human, but on a closer look weren’t? The perception of reality, the exploration of consciousness rendering the world accurately (to whom, no one is sure), the choices we make or choose not to make, amongst many other questions and concerns are found in A COLLAPSE OF HORSES.
The opening story “Black Bark” follows two men, Sugg and Rawley, out in the expansive west escaping some sort of conflict earlier in the narrative. Sugg has been shot in the leg, has been bleeding for some time and is waiting for refuge at a cabin just around the bend. It continues on and on, bend after bend this supposed cabin never comes into view. They stop at a cave, a “good luck charm” goes missing, and Sugg starts to tell the story of Black Bark—a piece of wood that is found in some man’s pocket with no reason as to how it got there. From there, the flickering fire, the man bleeding half to death, and story of Black Bark brings the reader to a sense of dread and terror. An outstanding opener for this collection.
“A Report” is a Kafka-esque story of man who has made some sort of report to an authority figure, presents it, and is subsequently thrown into a prison. Why? Well, our protagonist is unsure. Was it a missing detail, a lack of information, was his presentation subpar? All of these questions are swirling in his mind, all the while being systematically tortured both psychologically and physically, with no real explanation to his predicament. The tricks the mind plays in trying to stay sane in an insane environment, the pained and tortured returning that pain twofold, threefold, becoming the instigators of another’s misery.
The titular story “A Collapse of Horses” follows a man who comes upon a stable of horses all lying on the ground, are they dead, sleeping, barely breathing? He has never seen horses lie down. An accident happens at his place of work, and his skull is cracked in the process. He awakes to a home that stretches and bends, is unsure of the number of children he has, and he tries relentlessly to return to the horses that are neither dead nor alive. This is a story of a man’s slow descent into madness.
“A Seaside Town” is an excellent example of what Evenson can do with the Weird. Throughout the story reality transmogrifies, shaping horrors that are seen and unseen in the worst ways imaginable. Without an accurate word count, it’s a novelette or novella that just needs to be read to fully appreciate the quiet terror that unfolds in this story. It’s unsettling.
Possibly my favorite story in the collection is “The Dust” a science fiction story with elements of noir, mystery, horror, and thriller all packed into one novelette/novella. It follows a crew of space miners digging into a meteor for resources to bring back home. A never ending dust slowly accumulates within their mining station, and this is the least of their worries. A depleting reserve of oxygen, and the death of one of their crew members follows. You would think that Evenson would dive right into sci-fi aspects of this story, but he pulls them back and tells a tale of paranoia, betrayal, murder, and survival in the cold, black reaches of space. Evenson took a scalpel and tore into my brain with this one. It haunted me for days.
“Any Corpse” begins with: “When she woke, a shower of raw flesh had fallen in the field.” I don’t need to say any more.
I could continue on about all of the stories in this collection, but this post would go into the thousand of words. To put it simply, Evenson is a writers writer. His shadow is large in the American landscape. He is a genuine master of paranoia and the uncanny. He challenges his readers by disrupting their perception of reality, what tricks the mind plays at any given time, to any given person with the right circumstances (or none at all). He guides to the deepest reaches of your mind, leaving you in the depths of dread.Leave a Comment