Tuesday, August 4, 2015

North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

This book is mesmerizing in the same way that images of bacteria are mesmerizing. The stories in this collection are creepy, following characters with no moral compass. The book is classified as horror, and no wonder with the writer exploiting the vulnerability of the family unit. Many of these stories are on par with a disturbing crime show, excruciating to watch yet impossible to pry away from. 

The most haunting story, "Monsters of Heaven," which won the Shirley Jackson Award, paints a grim picture of a father's world after his young son goes missing. I can't imagine anything more tragic and terrifying than losing a child, and even though I liked this story the best out of all of them, I feel that provoking an emotional reaction using the nightmare of a missing child is a pretty low blow. 

Most of the stories are forgettable, but the closing story is by far the most disappointing and, unfortunately, its foulness lingers in my memory. Ironically titled, "The Good Husband," this story chronicles a self-righteous husband's attempts to care for his suicidal wife after she morphs into a freakish monster. The "good husband" locks her in the basement, feeds her roadkill, and comforts himself with, "I'm a good man" and "I always stood by her side. Always." There's no character development apart from descriptions of the wife's changing appearance. Even before she turns into a terrifying creature, the description of her physical appearance is shallow and judgmental, unaccompanied by any details that would give the reader a single clue of who this character really is.  

"Her body was part of the furniture of their marriage, utilized but ignored, with occasional benign observations from them both about its declining condition." How romantic. A decline in a woman's beauty seems to merit a downgrade to the basement and repasts of roadkill. This story reminded me of the film, The Babadook, except I actually liked that film. 

Resisting the hype of North American Lake Monsters, I'm going to step out on a limb and NOT recommend this book. 

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