In “Glasses,” one of Brian Evenson’s eerie yet captivating stories, a woman turns 40 and realizes that her eyesight is slipping. She buys what she thinks are standard bifocals, but soon, she’s seeing all kinds of odd sights. Her new specs have put her in touch with menacing visitors from another dimension, revealing a tear “in the fabric of the world.” It’s within this realm that Evenson does his best work.
Evenson writes about demonic beings, destroyed planets and deadly misadventures. Like its satisfying predecessors, his latest story collection is often unabashedly bizarre. “Song for the Unraveling of the World” contains two stories in which creatures appear to inhabit the skin of others; another couple of stories feature faceless people. Although this isn’t for everyone, Evenson’s uncanny but accessible fiction can remind you of Edgar Allan Poe or “The Twilight Zone.” Readers who appreciate the unusual will find this to be an inspired, thoroughly entertaining book.
Evenson has a distinct modus operandi: He starts with recognizable circumstances, then pries apart “the seam … of reality.” He takes horror and science fiction tropes — creepy mansions, post-apocalyptic hellscapes, imperiled spacecraft — and imbues them with an appealing mix of empathy and menace.
In “Leaking Out,” a drifter, alighting on a seemingly abandoned house, thinks he’s found a place to crash. Inside, he makes a grotesque discovery, yet decides, fatefully, to stick around. “He’d never stayed in the same place more than a day or two, not since his father’s death,” Evenson writes. You can’t help but feel for this desperate, lonely man.
“Sisters,” a darkly comic tale about alien beings posing as small-town siblings, is another sympathetic portrait of outsider-dom. Deceptive and perhaps homicidal, the sisters are also childlike, and for a moment, it looks like they’ll fit in with their new neighbors. Alas, things change when they take extreme measures to celebrate Halloween.
Some of Evenson’s finest stories are about everyday people who lose control in disturbing fashion. In “Room Tone,” a filmmaker wants to do an extra day of filming in a suburban house, but when the homeowner resists, there’s a stunning confrontation. In “A Disappearance,” a woman vanishes from a beach, leaving her husband and closest friend at odds, suspicious and reckless. The book’s title story, meanwhile, is a splendid work of misdirection; it features a father, his missing daughter and a series of harrowing revelations.
In another story, “Line of Sight,” the narrator mentions a movie “that brought you close to a character and then, once that character was going mad, brought you closer still.” This is what Evenson does. From certain angles, his fictional universes seem livable, but once you’re inside, following apace with his accursed characters, you see the landscape looks very different.
Kevin Canfield is a writer and critic in New York City.
Song for the Unraveling of the World
By: Brian Evenson.
Publisher: Coffee House Press, 212 pages, $16.95.