**** The Lake (2011)
Gracetown is a rural Florida location, just over the Georgia border; the setting for the first three stories in this collection. It’s a hot and sticky, sleepy town – with a chilling dark undercurrent of supernatural influences – which boil to the surface in the summer.
In ‘The Lake’ we meet a schoolteacher who’s decided to take a job in the town, sight unseen. We’re not told exactly why she left her last position, but it’s hinted right from the beginning that she might have some rather unprofessional plans concerning some of the teenage boys in her class. But things don’t culminate in the way the reader might expect. The teacher is strongly drawn to the lake in back of her house, and although she’s always been a bit timid of the water, finds herself spending more and more time swimming in the murk…
A very strong horror story – it would’ve been a full 5 stars from me if not for (view spoiler) I also felt that I had quite a bit more sympathy for the main character than the author did.
**** Summer (2007)
A young mother’s military husband is away for the summer, leaving her and the baby alone in their house in Gracetown. In the last story, ‘The Lake,’ we learned that swimming during the summer in Gracetown is a bad idea, and it’s too bad that no one ever got around to telling the main character yet. In ‘Summer’ there’s another failure of communication – no one tells this mother to take special care with her baby during the summer, until it’s too late.
But when your bratty, temper-tantrum-throwing baby is ‘possessed’ by a ‘visitor’ that makes your child well-behaved and adorable, is it such a bad thing?
In the author’s note, she describes this story as being about an “unconscionable choice,” but personally, I saw it as a very logical and reasonable choice. But then, there’s a reason I’m not a parent…
**** Ghost Summer (2008)
A novella-length classic ghost story. In the town of Graceland, it’s well-known that children can see ghosts. One young boy is eager to visit his grandparents in Florida for the summer, hoping to catch a glimpse of an apparition. But what he discovers exceeds his expectations, as a haunting leads to an unraveling of long-lost secrets. It reveals the truth of what happened one night, back in the town’s history, when fear and suspicion were escalated by hatred into an infamous race riot.
ii. THE KNOWING
**** Free Jim’s Mine (2014)
A couple, seeking to meet up with the Underground Railroad and get to the North, and freedom, seek out Free Jim. This emancipated black man, now a wealthy mine owner, had always promised to help his niece seek her freedom, but no help was ever forthcoming. Now, though, she’s desperate. She and her partner agree to spend the night in the mine to avoid pursuit… and this is one scary hole in the ground.
***** The Knowing (2002)
Is knowledge power – or a curse? A boy’s mother has one ‘gift’ – she knows the date on which everyone she sees will die. You’d think that perhaps one could leverage such knowledge, but that’s not what happens here. Absolutely heartbreaking.
**** Like Daughter (2000)
One day, a woman gets an unexpected call from a distraught old friend, asking her to come take custody of her goddaughter. At first, the piece seems like it might just be retreading the tired ground of the traumas of child abuse – but there’s an unexpected and powerful turn to the story.
*** Aftermoon (2004)
This might well be the most uneventful werewolf story I’ve ever read. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is still excellent, and it’s not without a few wry smiles… but the audience is more those who are concerned about body image and self-esteem issues in modern society than those interested in horror.
**** Trial Day (2003)
Powerful story, based in the author’s own family history, about how fear can stop a person from doing the right thing. And a touch of dark voodoo…
***** Patient Zero (2000)
Post-apocalyptic/’outbreak’ genre in the classic mode. Superb storytelling, but again, I have to find myself disagreeing with the author herself. In the notes she says she finds the main character’s “loneliness and innocence” heartbreaking – but I would say I found his ignorance and self-centered perspective appalling (although understandable, given the circumstances.) I felt that was where the main horror of the tale lay.
***** Danger Word (with Steven Barnes) (2004)
Kick-ass zombie story! A young boy is staying with his grandfather, in a cabin out in the woods. But it soon becomes clear that this is no summer vacation trip… all is not right with the world. This was later modified and expanded into the novel ‘Devil’s Wake’ – which I’m going to have to read.
*** Removal Order (2014)
Previously read in John Joseph Adams’ ‘The End is Nigh’ anthology.
What this story made me think about is how very peculiar it is that our society values keeping people alive when they have no hope of recovery from illness, and they are in horrible pain. This story has that situation: a young woman has stayed in an evacuation zone to care for her dying grandmother. The situation is believable, and is dealt with in a sensible manner, but I don’t think I had the empathy with the main character that the author intended.
**** Herd Immunity (2014)
Here, we meet the same character we were introduced to in ‘Removal Order,’ nine months later. Nayima has become harder, tougher – she’s had to do things to survive. However, she still has her dangerously stupid sentimental streak. That character trait, combined with her newfound, self-interested toughness, is a combination that’s a recipe for disaster. The reader knows all’s not going to end well when Nayima speaks about Typhoid Mary with sympathy.
At this point, I really hope the author isn’t still intending to have her readers sympathize with Nayima. I’m not quite sure.
**** Carriers (2015)
The third ‘Nayima’ story. Nayima is now old – or what passes for elderly in this now-post-apocalyptic world. She’s had a hard life, constantly experimented on and abused due to her immunity. She’s become suspicious (understandably so) and eccentric. She can’t believe that a promise could be anything more than yet another lie – but she still has her sentimental streak.
**** Señora Suerte (2006)
Starting from the prompt: “What if the unluckiest man in the world met Lady Luck?” this tale emerged. Left alone without family, all his loved ones dead, suffering from the effects of a stroke, an elderly man in a nursing home insists on attending every single Bingo game in the rec room, even though he hates the game and its false cheer… but he has a reason.
This last story doesn’t have any supernatural or horror elements in it, but it is a sad yet heartwarming and ultimately affirming look into a family’s struggles. A single mother is wrestling with raising two daughters, one of them direly ill, while trying to come to terms with the fact that her husband disappeared a year ago.
I’m coming out of reading this collection massively impressed with Due’s skill and strength as a writer. I don’t agree with her perspective 100% of the time – but I think that a good thing; it makes me as a reader feel that my preconceptions are challenged. There are lots of thorny and ambiguous issues here – and insights into the depths of the human heart. Beautifully done.
Many thanks to Prime Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.