Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Out of His Mind

Most of the stories in Stephen Gallagher's first collection fall somewhere between The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt in sensibility, though happily the former influence is more prominent than the latter.  The least impressive stories have predictable Zone-style twists and grim endings, as in the schoolboy revenge fantasy "Magpie" and the evil car story "Driving Force."  The best succeed by force of imagery and a deft balance between the suggestive and the explicit.  These highlights include "By the River, Fontainebleau," a disturbing meditation on rural depravity and the imagination of the artist; "The Visitors' Book," an ambiguous tale of the strangeness of vacationing in another person's home; and "The Jigsaw Girl," in which a jigsaw puzzle that may tell the future is nowhere near as haunting as the sad little girl who owns it.  Although about 1/3 of the included pieces are weak or unmemorable, some of the others are very fine indeed, and detailed story notes reveal the sources for Gallagher's realistic, nuanced portrayals of different environments and emotional states.

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