Review: Letters to Lovecraft

Letters to Lovecraft
Letters to Lovecraft by Jesse Bullington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fantastic “Lovecraftian” anthology that pays its debt to the father of cosmic horror with a really innovative and unexpected premise. Each story is its author’s response to a quote of their choosing from Lovecraft’s seminal essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” that speaks to them in some way or sparks an idea or an argument. This makes for some incredible stories that cover a much broader range of ideas and tones than the usual Lovecraft-inspired anthology.

The subtly skin-crawling “Past Reno,” “_____” and “The Lonely Wood” by Brian Evenson, Paul Tremblay and Tim Lebbon respectively, are both minor works of genius, crafting terror (and maximum impact) from only the slightest displacement of reality. Uncertainty creeps through every line, building and building to their incredible denouement’s of undiluted dread.

Nadia Bulkin’s “Only Unity Saves the Damned” is a wonderful ghost story and an even better study of the claustrophobia of small-town life.

“Allochthon” is another example of Livia Llewellyn’s sensuous, liquid prose telling a mind-melting story of displacement and horror in a world both alien and scarily familiar.

Stephen Graham Jones tears up a ripping werewolf yarn in “Doc’s Story” that throws authentic, no-frills characters in with a beautifully knotted narrative.

Cameron Pierce’s “Help Me” is a sharp bite of a story that will stick in your skin long after you’ve read it. It made me glad that I don’t fish.

“Glimmer in the Darkness” by Asamatsu Ken (translated by Raechel Dumas) uses Lovecraft himself in a dialogue-driven story that’s tense, unsettling and original.

In “The Order of the Haunted Wood,” Jeffrey Ford takes a subversive and hilarious approach to Lovecraft’s idea of a centuries-old cult.

Angela Slatter’s “Only the Dead and the Moonstruck” feels like a suburban fairytale, balancing mundane domesticity with a glistening, sleek horror element.

“That Place” by Gemma Files reminded me a little of the recent (and excellent) TV series, Stranger Things, although it’s less nostalgic and much darker. Her prose is everything; clever, understated, poetic when it needs to be. One of the highlights of the anthology.

Chesya Burke’s “The Horror at the Castle of the Cumberland” addresses Lovecraft’s issues with race in a story where humanity is the real horror.

Orrin Grey plays with form and self-awareness in his usual rampantly entertaining and innovative way in “Lovecrafting,” a story that’s as structurally engaging it is unsettling, with an ending all the more effective for its restraint.

“One Last Meal, Before the End” by David Yale Ardanuy is both a bloodthirsty take on the Wendigo myth in colonial America, and a smart response to Lovecraft’s white-washed views of Native American myths.

Kirsten Alene’s “There Has Been a Fire” is a dreamlike story with very tactile, raw imagery that reads as much like poetry as it does prose.

Don’t even try to imagine what to expect in “The Trees” by Robin D Laws, which is utterly weird and quite disturbing and left me feeling like I needed a scalding shower at the end of it.

Molly Tanzer’s “Food From the Clouds” is perhaps my favourite of the lot, a typically fizzing Tanzer-esque adventure that’s part romp, part immaculate world-building, all pleasure. Her use of the monstrous is brilliant and restrained. Her work here insettles, beguiles, and breaks the heart. She evokes a post-‘event’ London with so much pleasurable ease that the setting feels like it’s bleeding off the page.

Finally, Nick Mamatas pulls the rug out from under us in “The Semi-Finished Basement” in an incredibly clever and lingering way. I found it bleakly funny in a kind of matter-of-fact way that’s often hard to pull off, but Mamatas’ skill with tone, and his mastery at both character interactions and teasing out the Lovecraft references makes for the perfect gut-punch to round off the anthology.

Jesse Bullington has put together a lingering and versatile bunch of stories here in what is one of the better Lovecraft-inspired anthologies I’ve ever read. An original premise backed up by a hugely entertaining body of work, and one that I cannot recommend highly enough.

View all my reviews

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