TALES FROM THE LAKE VOLUME 5 (Crystal Lake Publishing, November 2 release date) Edited by Kenneth W. Cain. Various authors.
Over the years I’ve read enough anthologies, short story collections and fiction magazines to refine my expectations for what comprises a premium horror story. So when I declare that I thoroughly enjoyed two-thirds of the fiction in TALES FROM THE LAKE VOLUME 5 - - that says a lot about the high quality of the contents. Sixteen of the twenty-two stories and three poems in this volume met or exceeded my expectations. Seven of them I consider well above standards and worthy of re-reading. Of those seven, three are deserving of award nominations as this year wraps up. That’s enough to make this collection HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
TALES FROM THE LAKE is becoming a very reliable source for new, quality horror fiction. That’s a nice accomplishment, considering that each volume has a different editor. Each of these curators brings a different perspective and viewpoint to the selection of submissions that make the final cut.
In his introduction to this collection, editor Kenneth W. Cain shares that when reviewing the 715 submissions, he picked stories that best worked together “as parts of a whole” or just blew him away. He wanted “stories to gel, to accomplish something together.” As I read through this volume, I tired to identify the underlying theme. What seems to come up the most in this diversity of styles and plots is a sense of loss: loss of children, family, spouses, sanity, sleep, friends, identity, memory, innocence, and life itself. Not every story fits that template exactly, but maybe those few are the selections that blew Cain away.
These are the three stories that left a lasting impression on me, that I believe deserve some award nominations:
- “The Flutter Of Silent Wings” by Gene O’Neill recalls a classic Shirley Jackson story, and it’s meant to. It’s a sad first-person account of the debilitating effects of memory loss as a mother has difficulty distinguishing strangers from family members and has been dealing with a troubling nightmare/vision.
- In “Hollow Skulls” by Samuel Marzioli, a new father is troubled by memories of his grandmother’s tales of babies being empty vessels when born, susceptible to being entered by bad things. The story takes a very disturbing turn, and then twists again near the end - - which left me in shivers.
- For those who’ve become extremely depressed and given up hope, there’s a special hotel that caters to those who seek their death in “Farewell Valencia” by Craig Wallwork. As might be expected, the hotel does not have the best intentions and those guests who figure it out aren’t left with many choices.
There are four stories that were also above expectations and deserve to be read again:
- The legend of the monkey’s paw comes up in “The Weeds And The Wildness Yet” by Robert Stahl, as a grieving husband mourns the loss of his wife, who had a knack for gardening and an affinity with plants.
- Allison Pang puts a different spin on mermaids in “A Dream Most Ancient And Alone”, the tale of a young girl and her lakeside resort encounters with a “mudmaid”. There’s a lot to be said in this story about communication, friendship, and sacrifice.
- A prisoner who manages to escape from jail to a nearby swamp where his associates are waiting is not exactly the same person as when he began his sentence. Things end as expected in “Starve A Fever” by Jonah Buck, but in humorous fashion in this clever and very funny tale.
- Suffering from troubled memories, which also disturb her daughters, a divorced woman makes a bargain to have the memories removed in “Voices Like Barbed Wire” by Tim Waggoner. Be careful what you wish for, lest you lose the ability to speak of this forever.
TALES FROM THE LAKE Volume 5 also includes good stories which met my expectations from Stephanie M. Wytovich, Lucy Tayor, Paul Michael Anderson, Michelle Ann King, Joanna Parypinski, Gemma Files, Cory Cone, Peter Mark May and poetry by Bruce Boston and Stephanie M. Wytovich.
Stories that I found interesting but seemed to miss the mark or end without a satisfactory resolution were by Andy Rawson, Lucy A Snyder, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Laura Blackwell, Marge Simon, Meghan Arcuri and a different poem by Bruce Boston. Only one story seemed out of place in the anthology, “A Bathtub At The End Of The World, Or How Mr. Whittaker Achieved Knighthood” by Lane Waldman. It’s a whimsical fantasy (unless I misunderstood the premise) as opposed to the other stories in this volume, with a clever concept that spends too much time repeatedly demonstrating its cleverness.