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North American Lake Monsters: Stories Paperback – July 16, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Review

World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Award finalist.

"Pain has a rich and varied language, both mundane and transcendent, with infinite variations and many subtle flavours. Pain is one of the most private experiences people face, and yet a universal experience. North American Lake Monsters uses this palette to create most of its narrative hues and textures, to sharpen and heighten the characteristics of its profoundly human, deeply flawed characters. What sets this collection of short stories apart is the way the supernatural, magical and horrific are utilized like a light source, illuminating dark places while casting even deeper shadows. Ballingrud’s writing is piercing and merciless, holding the lens steady through fear, rage and disgust, showing a weird kind of love to his subjects, in refusing to turn away, as well as an uncompromising pitilessness. Angels and vampires are placed next to lost white supremacist boys and burnt-out waitresses. All are equally, horribly ugly and real."
Toronto Globe and Mail

"Each one of these nine stories has the capacity to seduce and terrify you like any of the most heavyweight horror authors out there."
—Andrew Liptak, io9

"Ballingrud's work isn't like any other. These stories are full of sadness and sorrow, but they're not merely sad. Like Tom Waits, Ballingrud is an expert at teasing out every delicious shade and nuance, every fine gradation of misery and pain. It's a heady and fantastic cocktail mixed from roughnecks and down-and-outers and flawed people who find in their ordinary and terrible world monsters, magic, and the strange. Ballingrud's fantastic elements are never seen full on, but always out of the corner of your eye, and it makes them all the more haunting."
—Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

"Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters is an exceptional fictional debut: It deserves a place alongside collections like Peter Straub’s Magic Terror, Scott Wolven’s Controlled Burn, Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake, Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. Like those works, Ballingrud’s stories delve into the damaged psyches of American men, with a distinctly twenty-first-century awareness of the world we now inhabit, itself as damaged as the shellshocked figures that populate it. Ballingrud’s tales are ostensibly tales of terror, meticulously constructed and almost claustrophobically understated in their depiction of an all- encompassing horror that, despite its often unearthly shimmer, is human rather than supernatural in origin; Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” or Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” as reimagined by Robert Stone or Cormac McCarthy."
—Elizabeth Hand, F&SF

"Matched to his original ideas and refreshing re­furbishments of genre set pieces, Ballingrud’s writ­ing makes North American Lake Monsters one of the best collections of short fiction for the year.
Locus

"The beauty of the work as a whole is that it offers no clear and easy answers; any generalization that might be supported by some stories is contradicted by others. It makes for an intellectually stimulating collection that pulls the reader in unexpected directions. The pieces don’t always come to a satisfactory resolution, but it is clear that this is a conscious choice. The lack of denouement, the uncertainty, is part of the fabric of the individual stories and of the collection as a whole. It is suggestive of a particular kind of world: one that is dark, weird, and just beyond our ability to impose order and understanding. These are not happy endings. They are sad and unsettling, but always beautifully written with skillful and insightful prose. It is a remarkable collection."
Hellnotes

"Ballingrud’s language transforms known quantities into monsters again. . . .
"You Go Where It Takes You," the opening story of the collection, sets the tone and, with its shocking ending, frames the moral of North American Lake Monsters. Transformation carries a shocking cost.
Two recent, disastrous transformations of the American landscape reverberate through the book: Katrina and the financial crisis. New Orleans is felt as a lost love. So is the American Dream, which seems now to have vanished for good along with Bear Stearns’s collateralized debt obligations. The transformations of Ballingrud’s characters echo these cataclysms. And yet–despite all the blame that’s flying around the landscape, and in the teeth of our contemporary hysteria about anything resembling reckless behavior–he refuses to judge them. These people do some really terrible things. They suffer. But there’s no sense of comeuppance earned, much less deserved.
This is the most striking quality of this extraordinary collection: the compassion of Ballingrud’s gaze. He makes no excuses for his characters, never comes near to glorifying their bad choices, and yet never looks down on them. The reader is left with the scarcely bearable knowledge that in the end, the subjects of North American Lake Monsters are human."
Amazing Stories

"What Nathan Ballingrud does in North American Lake Monsters is to reinvigorate the horror tradition."
—John Langan, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Dark, quirky stories.”—Charlotte Observer

"A good horror story stays with you long after reading it. A great horror story doesn't simply stay with you, it haunts you, and Nathan Ballingrud's fiction does just that. He breathes life into rough, blue-collar characters and places them in some of the best dark fiction being written today. Every single story in this collection is an emotional gut punch. The despair that saturates these tales is rich, and often it is not the supernatural elements in these tales that is horrific."
Arkham Digest

"For those willing to go down the dark road that’s laid out here, and those willing to feel complex patterns of sympathy, disgust, and horror for (often bad) people, this is an interesting collection. Uncomfortable a read as it is, it has the tinge of reality to it: a reality that often we’d rather not look at."
—Brit Mandelo, Tor.com

"A diverse, highly-engaging collection from a grossly under-appreciated author. "
Twilight Ridge

"It's Raymond Carver territory, beautifully written and right on target for today: construction work, waitressing, tattoos, and white supremacists. And shattering each story is the luminous, the terrifying, the Lovecraftian otherness that reveals what it really feels like to be alive in this moment in time. Ballingrud's fantastical werewolves and human skins and Antarctic staircases evoke the truth of our own fears about life."
—Maureen F. McHugh (After the Apocalypse)

"One of the best horror short story collections published during the last couple of years."
Rising Shadows

"Nathan Ballingrud is one of my favorite short fiction writers."—Jeff VanderMeer

"Nathan Ballingrud's 'The Way Station' is another story of the sort I've come to expect from him: emotionally intense, riveting, and deeply upsetting in many ways. It deals with loss, with the aftereffects of Katrina on a homeless alcoholic who's haunted by the city itself be-fore the flood, and in doing so it's wrenching. . . . It's an excellent story that paints a riveting portrait of a man, his city, and his loss."—Tor.com on The Naked City

"But the two most remarkable stories in Naked City are by relatively new authors: 'The Projected Girl' (Haifa) by Lavie Tidhar and 'The Way Station' (New Orleans and St. Petersburg, Florida) by Nathan Ballingrud are both heartbreakers."
—John Clute on Strange Horizons

About the Author

Nathan Ballingrud: Nathan Ballingrud was born in Massachusetts but has spent most of his life in the South. He's worked as a bartender in New Orleans and a cook on offshore oil rigs. His story "The Monsters of Heaven" won the inaugural Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in Asheville, NC, with his daughter.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Small Beer Press; First Edition edition (July 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1618730606
  • ISBN-13: 978-1618730602
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm Nathan Ballingrud. I live in Asheville, NC, with my daughter. I write literary dark fantasy and horror. I'm a big fan of writers like Richard Ford, Annie Proulx, Lucius Shepard, and Clive Barker. I think the world is a pretty dark and unforgiving place, but a beautiful place, too. That's what I like to write about.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kristopher Kelly on July 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Nathan Ballingrud's debut collection of short stories sank its claws deep into my brain and refused to let go until I'd read the whole thing. He writes clear, powerful tales, where the monsters in question flush out his characters' humanity in traumatic clarity. Most of these don't end well, but they're all gorgeous pieces.

Often, the obvious monster of the story is not the worst monster. Take, for example, the story "Wild Acres," where an early, bloody attack suggests an obvious sort of supernatural tale. Yet Ballingrud doesn't go down that road, instead taking the reader through the emotional consequences of surviving the ordeal and the choices made during such an event. Or the eponymous "North American Lake Monsters" itself, where an unidentifiable beast washes up on the shore of a lake and yet remains only a lightning-rod metaphor for the things going on within the family that discovers it.

In another standout piece, "Crevasse," about a sled team in Antarctica running into trouble, Ballingrud manages to concoct a Lovecraftian story that challenges even the best of Lovecraft's work.

My favorite story in the collection is, unexpectedly, "Sunbleached," which is a story about a young kid's relationship with a vampire in his basement. I'm sick to death of vampire tales, and yet this one bowled me over. The details were captivating, and I still can't shake the ending.

This collection represents some of the finest literary horror I've read since devouring Shirley Jackson's short stories. I'm an instant fan of Ballingrud, and North American Lake Monsters is a powerful, disturbing beast.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "Seregil of Rhiminee" on August 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
Nathan Ballingrud's North American Lake Monsters is the author's debut short story collection and what a debut it is! It's one of the best horror short story collections published during the last couple of years.

There are certain short story collections that are so spectacular and unforgettable that you can't help but wonder how the author has managed to write all the stories. This collection is one of those collections, because it's a work of art in terms of storytelling, characterization and atmosphere. I have to admit that I was very impressed by this collection. It's one the highlights of the year and should be read by everybody who loves horror and dark fantasy stories.

I've always loved good dark fantasy, horror and especially weird fiction (and cosmic horror). These dark stories intrigue me much more than any other stories, because there's something in them that makes me want to read them in one sitting. This short story collection also caused this kind of a reaction in me, because the stories were fascinatingly dark and I couldn't stop reading them. If I should describe this collection with only one adjective, the adjective would be "AMAZING", because all the stories in this collection are simply amazing in their bleakness.

Before I begin to review and analyze the contents of this collection, I have to mention that it's amazing how many good and talented new authors have emerged during the last couple of years (I think it's fair to say that this is the new golden age for horror and dark fantasy). Nathan Ballingrud is one of these good authors and I think that he has a bright future ahead of him as an author. I sincerely hope that he will continue to write more horror stories, because he's an extremely talented author.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steve Rasnic Tem on August 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the best short story collections I've read in years. Ballingrud's prose is assured, with no missteps.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. S. Pulver on April 20, 2014
Format: Paperback
Bleak and haunting, this tour-de-force collection was one the highlights of 2013. Cover to cover, the weight and measure of these uncompromising stories PUNCH the soul. Breathtaking!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mark G. Garcia on December 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'd like to give this 3.5 stars. Good book. Some haunting stories about human relationships intertwined with stories about monsters. I like the way Ballingrud keeps the horror/monsters almost in the periphery when exploring normal problems.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Pope Mel on June 20, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I try to read a short story every day, so I burn through a lot of collections each year. This one was special. I really looked forward to picking it up each morning because I never knew what to expect. Would it be a tale about the aftermath of a werewolf attack? A fugitive vampire being harbored by a vengeful teen? (And, incidentally, probably THE BEST DARNED VAMPIRE STORY I'VE EVER READ!) A suicidal wife whose husband will not let her die? Vile white supremacists flexing their muscles? An Arctic expedition gone horribly wrong?

It messed with my mind and left me wanting more, more, more.

Are these stories Bizarro fiction? Fantasy? Horror?

Eh, who cares! Just know they are unique and unusual and will take you down paths you've never visited before. Even a story with a more familiar theme - a couple whose marriage begins to dissolve after their child is taken - is given a whole new spin as an "angel" appears to take the missing boy's place.

Though the subject matter is frequently disturbing, Ballingrud's writing is lovely, and I would not hesitate to recommend this to readers looking for something cool, dark and different.
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