The Practice of Creativity

Review: Spook Lights–Southern Gothic Horror

Posted on: September 25, 2017

The first thing you notice in Eden Royce’s short story collection, Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror, is the exquisite attention to language and setting. Royce’s storytelling is layered and dense. Spook Lights is billed as dark fiction. The sense of horror, dis-ease and dread are developed in an entertaining and unexpected way in each story.  This collection is a great introduction to Southern gothic horror and is well worth your time.

Themes that recur in the stories include: betrayal, the meaning of death, the price of living, what makes a joyful life, and memory. The challenges of love, especially for women and the price that they are willing to pay for it (whether for a son or lover) is often costly. The characters in these stories yearn, love, desire and act in ways that make for compelling fiction.

This collection is populated by a variety of diverse characters and cultural reference points that include European American, African American, and indigenous histories. And, their experiences are filtered through the landscape of the South, most often Charleston. Indeed, one of the gems of Eden’s storytelling is the way she uses language, dialect, and setting to re-imagine folk traditions, hoodoo, and everyday people seeking spiritual assistance. She upends the traditional Hollywood stereotypes of root workers and conjure women. She is interested in how the magical and mundane intersect, especially for women of color and the paths that they travel to find freedom– both physical and psychological. Indeed, the title of the collection embodies a playfulness about ideas of darkness and light, and personal and official histories.

I truly enjoyed every story in this collection. Some of my favorites include, “Dr. Buzzard’s Coffin”, a fresh take on zombies, including ones that can restore balance. This tale involves an uncle undergoing a metamorphosis in order to cleanse the community of a dangerous threat. In many of the stories, the main character seeks assistance from the spirits and after receiving the assistance, realizes (often too late) that it came with a high spiritual price tag. “Hag Ride” is one of these stories. What is one to do when one loves a philandering husband? We feel for Frieda, the main character when she is warned by ‘Big Mama’, her godmother (who works roots), that sometimes we should let someone go rather than trying to force them to love us.  The troubled young woman doesn’t want to hear this sage advice and proceeds to call on ‘The Hag’ for help. Her philandering husband gets more than he bargains for when he meets a beautiful woman who gives him the “ride” of his life. He is definitely transformed in ways that Freida can’t anticipate. It is a delicious revenge story with a twist at the end.

With the “Turn of a Key” and “Rhythm”, roles are reversed and it is the man that’s been betrayed and seeks help from otherworldly forces.

The stories vary in length and viewpoint, alternating between first and third person. Some like “Hand of Glory” and “Homegoing” are flash fiction driven, leaving us with more tantalizing questions than answers.

My very favorite story, “The Choking Kind”, ends the collection. I love this story because it is a mother and daughter story, a mystery and a story about magical beings all rolled into one. Imaginative and unexpected it deals with ideas of loss, memory, identity, freedom and family.

In this collection, there is a story for every kind of horror and dark fiction aficionado. Compelling short story collections are marvels of pacing, selectivity and wordsmithing. Eden Royce brings all of that and more to this work. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

 

 

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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