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For some reason, I wasn’t familiar with Mike Allen’s work before reading this book, and only picked it up because his name kept being associated with Laird Barron and Simon Strantzas. I now see why. It’s an amazing collection of ethereal horror, grounded just enough to make you look over your shoulder.
A poet of some renown, Allen brings the lyrical quality to his tales, making them almost dream-like. His horror has that element of the Weird to it, but it’s something else, something in the prose that feels like a fable. It’s very present in the bookend tales, “The Button Bin” and “The Quiltmaker,” his two pieces exploring identity and flesh. We see outer horrors manipulating us in “Her Acres Of Pastoral Playground” and “The Blessed Days” while stranger, sharper things wait in “The Music of Bremen Farm” and “Gutter.” We find lives intertwined around darkness in “The Hiker’s Tale” and “Stone Flowers” while we meet two different faces of evil in “Humpty” and “Monster.”
The stories in UNSEAMING are lush, a horror that engages in all of your senses. You feel immersed in these brief tales, Allen’s word choice in his story-telling wrapping around you. It’s a rich darkness surely on par with the contemporary masters, and I’m excited to read more work by him.
I do not read short-story anthologies in one sitting; rather, I tend to keep them handy for bedtime reading at the end of the day.
Unseaming does not make good bedtime reading: first, because it's easy to want to move on to the next story right away; and second, these horror tales pluck at the darker parts of your imagination. They are nightmare fuel.
Through these stories and his other works, such as the Black Fire Concierto, Allen has fun mucking around in conventional horror worlds in unconventional ways. He often invokes the spirit of cosmic horror without falling into the worst of its tropes, making the material fresh. The Button Bin, the first story in the anthology, is a good example of this. But Allen isn't afraid to get visceral and play around in blood, which he can do to great effect.
I really enjoyed this one. I suppose my favorite element to this collection was the unpredictability of the tales. In a few, I would start to think, "Well, this is going nowhere". But then, something completely unexpected would happen, and I was wowed, shocked, freaked out, or completely disgusted (in a good way 😃). So, yes. I would definitely recommend this one. If you enjoy creepy and different, you may want to give this collection a try.
One of the more original and well-executed New Gothic/Weird Horror short story collections I've read in a while. Other examples, to varying degrees of success, abound on Amazon (John Langan, Simon Strantzas, Jeremy Robert Johnson). The praise by Laird Barron in the foreword is a good indicator that you should give Mr. Allen a chance to scare you. His collection is a tightly-paced read that only bogs down in a couple of places. Most notably in "The Quiltmaker," which starts off strong but feels about three times longer than it needs to be. Allen presents an interesting and creative new mythology. The standout example has to be "The Hiker's Tale," which reminded me of classic King or Straub (and I'm sure will be forefront in my mind the next time I'm camped out on the AT!). But "Her Acres..." and "Stone Flowers" are also haunting and beautiful in a sad, melancholic sort of way. "Humpty" and "The Blessed Days" were really fascinating ideas that both sort of foundered a little at their ends. Still, both were very original. I have to mention pacing again because when Allen's pacing was on, the writing was top notch. But when it got bogged down it became a drudge. All in all, "Unseaming" is a great indicator of Allen's potential and if you like New Horror (and, again, especially Gothic, which is so hard to pull off well) give this a read.
Wonderful writing that channels Lovecraft and the more lyrical contributors to the Mythos and the macabre genre in horror writing. He is able to marry the cosmic and existential with the intimate and personal horror that so many neglect today.
A genuine literary voice that weaves a great yarn in a timbre and quality that is an immense pleasure to read. A true wordsmith and craftsman.
What do I say about this collection? This is perhaps one of the best collections I have read in a very long time? When you pick this up be prepared to go on a trip outside of reality. This isn't very gory but it will leave you with a satisfied feeling. I recommend to all fans of modern horror.
Very well written and completely terrifying!!!! This collection of short stories is so imaginative. Mike Allen has a fantastic talent for the things that make people squirm. I'm addicted and I can't wait for more!!!