North American Lake Monsters: Stories Hardcover – July 16, 2013
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"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.
"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."
"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 yetdespite all the blame that’s flying around the landscape, and in the teeth of our contemporary hysteria about anything resembling reckless behaviorhe 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."
"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."
"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. "
"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."
"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
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This collection of short stories is nothing short of stellar. The characters are down on their luck, desperate people, haunted by their choices and the state of their lives. There’s a waitress, who blames her child for the loss of her lover, the owner of a failing construction company on the verge of losing everything, a young boy forced to attend his disabled mother’s every grisly need, a doctor on a quest for survival in Antarctica who makes a disturbing discovery, a man dealing with the guilt over his young son’s abduction, a boy who makes a regrettable pact with a monster, a felon who uses prison mentality to reconnect with his wife and daughter, a elderly homeless man trying to locate his daughter, and a husband seeking a second chance with his suicidal wife. There’s something beautifully disturbing in these characters horrific evolutions as the story events forever change them.
My favorites are Wild Acre, The Good Husband, The Monsters of Heaven, Sunbleached, and the Crevasse. The desperation of the protagonist of the Wild Acre, and the destruction of all he holds dear is compelling. The Good Husband (the source of the above quote) and the Crevasse were the most visceral reads for me. I sympathized with both characters situations, their losses, and their horrifying new normal. The Monsters of Heaven and Sunbleached, feature otherworldly creatures, alien beings believed to be angelic and a vampire, respectively. Both offer an escape with gut wrenching costs.
The well-drawn characters give the stories heart, while the beautiful writing casts spell-binding story worlds, as evidenced by this quote from “S.S.” “A quick scan with the flashlight revealed the bright red splash of blood on the china, a glaring arc of beauty like a detail from a Pollock canvas.” Ballingrud spins his tales with lures that draw in the reader and keep her pinned like a dead butterfly pinned in a display frame to the page as he delivers the final blow with each powerful ending.
Many of these stories feel more literary than horror, which isn't a bad thing. Some of this collections brightest moments are when the literary combine with the horrific in an explosive fashion. My personal favorite was "The Monsters of Heaven." It dissects a relationship after a married couple lose their child. Weird angelic creatures show up and throw a monkey wrench in the mix. Oddly hypnotic.
What i struggled to appreciate in this collection was the way many of the stories felt unresolved. "The wild Acre" records a man's spiral downward after his friends are mauled by an unknown monstrosity. The monster appears near the start, but becomes insignificant as the story progressess and we witness the true monster rear it's ugly head in the way the friends and family treat the individual. The ending feels sudden, and lacking any sort of meaning.
Another story is in S.S about a really troubled kid. There is a definite climatic ending, but i'm left unsure of what it means for the protagonist.
A lack of a resolution doesn't bother me, some of the most profound experiences related to reading occurred when the author denies a resolution. But i felt these stories lacked this profoundness.
All that aside, i still very much look forward to Ballingrud's next collection which i hear is more in the vein of Atlas of Hell.
I with seek out and read anything Nathan Ballingrud writes in the future.
And while these are definitely horror stories and there are monsters in all of the tales I don't think these stories should be for horror junkies alone. These stories are bigger and better than any genre label would suggest. Now if you are a horror junkie you should read this as soon as you can get your paws on it.
My personal favorite story was probably "The Way Station" or "The Good Husband" but man they are closely followed by the title story, "Sunbleached" and "Wild Acre."
I am so glad I bought a physical copy of this book so that I can reread a couple of these stories now and again. Now I just wish I had a couple more copies so I could thrust them onto friends. While these stories aren't for everyone they are very worth your time. I highly recommend North American Lake Monsters: Stories.
Top international reviews
So, typically in these stories, you get the weird/horror element which is treated in a matter-of-fact way, almost obliquely. This is contrasted with hard-bitten, hard-boiled realism; people suffering with unemployment, poverty, psychological problems, addiction, dysfunctional families, marriage breakdowns. Extreme situations perhaps, but ordinary. And, amazingly, it's often this part of the story; the real and ordinary, which somehow holds the sense of strangeness and the uncanny. Add to this the sympathetic characterisation that I mentioned earlier, and you get these very powerful and poetic stories.
Another thing about the weird element; he never allows it to become too obviously metaphorical or allegorical, so the story really works in a more ambiguous way, much more like poetry.
I should say as well that although the subject matter might seem bleak and depressing, the final result never is. Maybe because the characters are written with real warmth and understanding. However, I don't want to put you off if you're looking for 'bleak and depressing', that's just not how the stories left me.
I loved this book. It's haunted me in a very pleasurable way, like a lovely meal that repeats on you.
I can't wait for him to write a novel.
I really enjoyed these stories and welcome a new voice to the field of Dark Fiction.
I love to have a short story collection on the go almost all of the time, reading one story each night after finishing my longer reads and this one fit the bill perfectly. Even more intriguing was the announcement that HULU was adapting the collection into a series titled ‘Monsterland.’
What I liked: this collection ran the gamut of subject matter and I found some of them immediately pulled me in, while a few were a bit more of a slow burn. The two stand out stories for me were easily ‘The Crevasse’ co-written with Mr. Bailey and ‘North American Lake Monsters.’ In ‘The Crevasse’ we follow along on an expedition in Antarctica when something goes horrifically wrong. It is during these actions that one of the characters discovers that maybe there is more under the ice than we believe. Truly amazing. The title story was a unique look at the re-infiltration of a man into his family after being in prison. A discovery by his daughter causes some amazing ripples through the familiar unit. I loved every sentence in this.
What I didn’t like: For me personally, some of the stories didn’t have any sense of closure, or the ending just went off in such an odd tangent that I was left perplexed. The easiest example of this was in the story ‘S S.’ This was an ‘American History-X’ style look at a high school kid walking a thin line of morals versus acceptance. The ending was something so unpredictable and head shaking I was left confused. Some people make like how this plays out in the stories, but I felt a bit let down with a number of them.
Why you should buy it: Ballingrud writes at an elevated level that is still highly accessible. Where I struggle at times with Ligotti’s literary approach, Ballingrud took that and made it readable for every horror fan, which was great. It’s something not a lot of people want to discuss, but at times horror fans can be intimidated by some authors purely because they are worried they don’t want to feel dumb or don’t believe they are smart enough to ‘get it.’ No worries here – dive in and have fun. And of course – with so much variance there is definitely something for everyone.
I haven’t seen a confirmed release date for ‘Monsterland’ so you still have time to read this and discover the source material before it graces our screens. As for me, I’ll be jumping into ‘Wounds’ tonight.
Many of these stories started strong. The way Ballingrud writes is beautiful and poetic. The imagery he uses is fantastic. However, in an attempt to be different, Ballingrud ruins these stories by putting in these monsters and also failing to give the stories any direction.
The story about the lost child would have been amazing if it didn't include angels that had nothing to do with the story that got erections when he looked at it in the face. What on Earth?!
The only decent story is the vampire one, but even then it isn't particularly strong.