Thorn’s Thoughts: A Critical Review – “Reality is Horror in James Newman’s Odd Man Out”

It would be just as reasonable to label James Newman’s Odd Man Out “realist” fiction as it would be to call it “horror fiction.” These kinds of category-based distinctions too often and too easily slip into banal generalities about “merit,” but I raise the issue partially in order to identify this novella’s profound, vital, and distinct modus operandi. I do think Newman is very conscious of the horror genre here—not only of what it is, but more importantly of what it can be, what it can do. It starts with affect, but it doesn’t end there.

Read the full review on Unnerving Magazine‘s website.

Making the World Strange in Daniel Braum’s The Night Marchers

I’m fascinated by this book’s recurring tensions, between sensitive, humanist character dynamics and that which absolutely and totally exceeds the human. Certainly, this tension arises often from the kind of mysticism described in the author’s bio (consider “Hurricane Sandrine,” “Mystic Tryst,” and “Music of the Spheres,” which is the collection’s strongest piece by far).

Read the full review on Unnerving Magazine‘s website.

Thorn’s Thoughts: Halloween Carnival Volume One


Halloween Carnival Volume 1
, edited by Brian James Freeman, provides a handful of efficiently written variations on its title theme. Its overall effect is pleasant, if not especially demanding. One gets the sense that this might be what Freeman wants: an assortment of easy and digestible Halloween-set tales. The collection’s structure is interesting, in that it begins with three relatively brisk pieces before concluding with a long story and a novelette. This layout seems to suggest a process of easing into or building up to the main event(s), but I think the book peaks with its second entry—Kevin Lucia’s genuinely powerful “The Rage of Achilles, or When Mockingbirds Sing.”

Read my full review on Unnerving Magazine’s website.

Breaking Down Boundaries in Nicole Cushing’s The Sadist’s Bible


Nicole Cushing’s novella The Sadist’s Bible delves into the ideological, philosophical, and theological problems of binary thinking. I know… at the outset, this might sound like some highfalutin literary project, but Cushing commits totally to horror, and to the ways in which this genre can bring both insights and physical affects to her ideas.

Read the full review on Unnerving Magazine‘s website.

Devious Dialogues: A.M. Novak and Mike Thorn on FOX’s ‘The Exorcist’


In April, A.M. Novak and Mike Thorn discussed The Exorcist film series in detail. FOX recently announced a second season for Jeremy Slater’s television adaptation, so Novak and Thorn discussed the news at the request of a “Devious Dialogues” reader.

Mike: The first thing that struck me about this series is that its narrative approach is opposite to the prequels (Exorcist: The Beginning [2004] and Dominion [2005]). Whereas those films took different approaches with Father Merrin’s backstory (and, to my mind, equally unsuccessful), creator Jeremy Slater moves forward here to further explore the MacNeil family. In doing so, he reimagines a lot of what was presumably resolved at the end of William Peter Blatty’s novel and William Friedkin’s adaptation. As someone who admires both, I couldn’t stifle the cognitive dissonance — Slater’s MacNeils don’t at all resemble my recollection/perception of Blatty’s original characters. What do you make of Slater’s decision to create a story that builds off the original novel?

Anya: I did notice a disparity between the dynamic of Reagan and her mother in both the novel and the 1973 film, and that of their relationship in the show. There was a definite choice on the writers’ part to create conflict between the now-grown Reagan and her mother Chris MacNeil, due to Chris’ callous exploitation of her daughter’s ordeal after the events in Georgetown. However, in both the novel and the original, there is nothing but the deepest unconditional love between the duo. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of the people watching FOX’s The Exorcist have at least seen the 1973 film, and remember the strong familial bond, myself included. This bond is the source of so much empathy for the characters involved that, for me, their relationship in the new series feels like an unwelcome change that undermined that very empathy. That said, I appreciate the angle that Slater takes by exploring the entire MacNeil family, and found that the emotional ties amongst the other family members (sisters Casey and Kat, and father Henry) provides an adequate substitute for what was lost on Reagan and Chris.

Read the full dialogue in Vague Visages.

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe: A Literary Showcase of Horror’s Possibilities


Gwendolyn Kiste bookends her short story collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe with two pieces written in the second-person. At first glance, the device might appear to work toward a tone of urgency, or a forced closeness between reader and text (and it does both of these things), but the technique works on several other registers, too. Both of these stories, “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” and “The Lazarus Bride,” undergo a complicated study of otherness and self-dissociation (two themes that re-emerge repeatedly throughout the book), all while foregrounding meticulously honed plot momentum and structure. This single example is one among countless demonstrations of Kiste’s heightened literary consciousness; this is an extremely rare breed of fiction debut, whose assuredness, complexity, and above all whose singular perspective suggest a lifetime of practice. Think Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood (1952), Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1986), Kathe Koja’s The Cipher (1991), or Clive Barker’s Books of Blood (1985).

Read the full review on Unnerving Magazine‘s website.