Review: Suspended in Dusk II, edited by Simon Dewar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In his foreword, Simon Dewar discusses the themes behind the period of dusk, noting that this is a moment of change, a "time between times", when light turns dark, when good can turn bad. It's a flashpoint for life and death, an instant where the inevitable can turn on a dime, where one's greatest fears or greatest hopes can be realized, a time when people are forever altered and either ruined or reborn. Collected in Suspended in Dusk II are 17 stories that realize these instances of change, to varying degrees. Some are poignant, others are subtle, and all work together to make this a seriously strong anthology of dark fiction.

Much of this strength lies in this anthology's commitment to diversity. Plenty of hay has been made, in certain social media circles, over the lack of inclusiveness in certain high-profile anthologies recently announced and how, in 2018, certain publishers, editors, or compilers could release an all-white male anthology and completely ignore the breadth of voices dark fiction has to offer. Suspended in Dusk II makes no such mistake, giving readers a number of strong voices from across the gender and sexual spectrum. Dewar has collected here several powerful women, writers whose names may be instantly recognizable and lesser-known talents who deserve to become household names, people of color, authors with a wide range of religious affiliations or no religion at all, from a handful of continents. Each, of course, are storytellers first and foremost, but their works carry a certain depth and breadth of experience to challenge publishing's oftentimes default homogeneity.

Take, for instance, Dan Rabarts's Riptide. Rabarts is a New Zealand author, and his story of loss and revenge is built upon the foundations of Māori mythology as a bereaved father and widower battles a taniwha. Gwendolyn Kiste tackles issues of childhood abuse and sexual trauma through an allegorical tale of monsters. Karen Runge, too, tackles similar subjects and their fetishization in this anthology's opening story, Angeline. It's a powerful opener, and Runge's writing is flat-out wonderful. I haven't read Runge's work previously, but you rest assured her novel Seeing Double will be in my hands soon.

Suspended in Dusk II runs the gamut of dark fiction. Not every piece included here is a work of straight-up horror, although it's certainly an element common to most of the stories here. Some are more subtle horrors drawn from the tapestry of life, or death in the case of Bracken MacLeod's story of an injured hiker. Christopher Golden's The Mournful Cry of Owls is a fantastical coming-of-age story, and an incredibly well-drawn one at that, told from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl about to celebrate her Sweet 16, as she passes through the dusk separating adolescence from adulthood and the secrets in between. Others carry overtones of the apocalypse, such as Paul Tremblay's There's No Light Between Floors, a sort-of 9/11 event with Lovecraftian overtones, and Ramsey Campbell's Another World. Campbell's in particular is an excellent use of a decidedly foreign perspective, whose central character encounters our modern world through the filter of religious extremism. Letitia Trent takes her own tract on another world, giving us an encounter with infected, rabid children cast out into the wild and fenced off from society.

Dewar does a fine job balancing the tonal rhythms and themes of each story, giving the anthology a unique pulse. The stories dovetail between their similarities and differences, giving readers slight arcs across the narratives, book-ending them all between Runge's and MacLeod's wildly different, yet thematically similar, stories of a central figure cast out, either by choice or by circumstance, into the wild and left to survive by their own wits, suspended in a moment of dusk.

[Note: I received an advanced reader's copy of this work from the publisher, Grey Matter Press.]

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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