Bracken MacLeod is quickly becoming a recognizable name in horror literature. His novel Stranded has been nominated for a Stoker Award for “Superior Achievement in a Novel,” and Warner Brothers Television have optioned the book. I reviewed it for Fangoria, and can tell you that the novel deserves the praise that has been heaped upon it. In between Stranded and MacLeod’s next novel, Come To Dust, comes his collection of short stories: 13 Views of the Suicide Woods.
One thing I’ll say about MacLeod’s work is that it takes you to unexpected places and conclusions. You might laugh at a really bad decision and its denouement, smirk at the comeuppance of a vile character, cheer at well-deserved vengeance, or feel utterly despondent. It’s up to you to decide what you feel, and where. But then, that’s part of the fun of 13 Views of the Suicide Woods; it is an emotional treasure hunt.
Most of the stories in 13 Views of the Suicide Woods have been previously published by various outlets. However, “Still Day: An Ending;” “The Boy Who Dreamt He Was a Bat;” “All Dreams Die in the Morning;” and “This Last Little Piece of Darkness” are brand new. You can definitely see a progression in his writing. While the stories may not be presented in chronological order, it is evident how MacLeod has developed over time. It’s a plain reminder of “the more you practice, the better you get.” Of course, it helps if you’re already talented at describing the emotions and motivations of characters in the first place.
There are plenty of stories to love in the collection. Like an anthology film, if you don’t like one, there’s a good chance you’ll like others. Certain stories struck a chord with me. “Something I Said?” is about a guy in a bar who purposely eggs on a horrible man into beating him so badly that he gets locked up. I won’t say why; the delight is in the unfurling of the motivation. “Ciudad de los Niños” is a nightmarish city full of children in Mexico who are kidnapped and transformed into pint-sized killing machines by a matriarch. The lush imagery made this story one of my favorites.
“The Boy Who Dreamt He Was a Bat” is a heartbreaking tale of child abuse and daydreaming coping mechanisms. “This Last Little Piece of Darkness” explores similar themes in a way that was unexpected, but no less scarring. These two stories are filled with such detail from a child’s point of view that I was close to tears.
“Blood Makes the Grass Grow” offered a break with its hilarious ending. It’s about a few bungling thieves that make a series of very bad decisions and crosses a unknown-to-them legendarily gun-happy author, as well as some resourceful pot growers in Maine. “Mine, Not Yours” is a new take on Christian Hell House theatricals and “Morgenstern’s Last Act” is a fantastic parable reminiscent of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
“In the Bones” reads like it was written for Tales From the Darkside, and it’s hard to discuss this one without giving anything away. The more you read, the more you’ll uncover. Layer after layer unfurls until it’s clear that the bad guy isn’t going to get away with it — and the weaving in this story is ingenious. “Blood of the Vine” is about a small town, who have been inspired by The Wicker Man a little too much.
“Pure Blood and Evergreen” takes place in a parallel world that has concentration camps for not only the “undesirables,” but for vampires, or vampire-like humans. “The Texas Chainsaw Breakfast Club or I Don’t Like Mondays” is an enjoyable escapist piece in which high school kids are trapped and chained in a basement by someone they trusted. Who will survive and what will be left of them?
“Reminisce” is an uncomfortable exploration into a deranged couple and the rituals they go through to mentally resurrect their dead son. “Looking for the Death Trick” is a glimpse into the rough life of a prostitute. The title story “Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods” is a sad look into oblivion in a certain forest.
I haven’t mentioned every single story in this collection, but you can probably tell that I quite enjoyed the 13 Views of the Suicide Woods as a whole. If you want your next collection of fiction to surprise you, pick it up — or any of MacLeod’s work.