Don’t let how long it took me to finish reading Ted E. Grau‘s debut collection throw you; my reading schedule has been all screwed up lately, and various things kept coming along to interrupt the process, and, frankly, I didn’t want to rush things. I wanted to savor each story, at least a little bit, and these aren’t the kinds of stories that you want to read while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office or something. These things require a certain amount of ceremony. Reading The Nameless Dark is the kind of thing that feels like it needs to be done right.
Like a lot of contemporary horror authors–myself included–Ted wears his influences on his sleeve in these stories, and if you know me at all, then you know that I think that’s for the best. While several of the stories in The Nameless Dark got their first printings in Lovecraftian anthologies, and often default to some familiarly Lovecraftian ideas, the more telling influences often come from other places, notably names like Bradbury or Barron. But as I was reading, I was surprised to find that my mind kept coming back to King, as in Stephen. Not that these are necessarily Stephen King-ish stories–with the possible exception of “Beer & Worms,” one of several stories in this volume that have that added bite of an E.C. Comics-style twist in the tail–but rather that almost all of the stories in The Nameless Dark partake of King’s affinity for normal people who aren’t so normal, and unusual people who are maybe more normal than they appear.
While the Lovecraftian trappings, when they come, may seem familiar, they never feel faded, always given a new life, a new immediacy that elevates them above the crush of Mythos mimics out there. Nowhere will you find anything as simple as a string of Yog-Sothery or a “and they were all fish people!” ending. Instead, even the most familiar tale is invested with a beating human heart that brings grit and breath and blood and bone to the lofty cosmic horror conceits. See hallucinatory stories like “Return of the Prodigy” or the dynamite collection-ender “The Mission” for perfect examples. And then, just to show that Grau is capable of taking the Mythos and turning it on its ear in some different way, there’s a story like “The Truffle Pig,” which was one of my first exposures to Ted’s writing back when we shared a table of contents in Ross Lockhart’s Tales of Jack the Ripper.
In fact, I was already familiar with several of the stories in The Nameless Dark before I ever picked up this volume. Besides Tales of Jack, I’d shared anthology space with Ted in The Children of Old Leech and Cthulhu Fhtagn! So I knew that I was in for a treat, but I still found new surprises, and new stories to love. I think my favorite piece in the whole book is one that, unless I am mistaken, is original to this collection, and is also the one that opens the volume: “Tubby’s Big Swim,” a story that is darkly humorous, full of heart, and with a voice that only Ted could manage.
But you don’t have to take my word for it: The Nameless Dark was just this very afternoon nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award for best collection! You can pick it up direct from the publisher or via most of the usual channels.