Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee:--
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest: I see thee still;
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before.
MacBeth, Act II Scene I
Horror is more than just a sudden visceral image of splattered guts or corpse faces forever locked into twisted images of bloodcurdling terror. Horror is something of the mind, perhaps present, perhaps just a figment of an overexcited imagination. In some of the best horror stories, we do not know until near the end whether or not the sensations that the characters are feeling are due to real or imagined stimuli.
In Glen Hirshberg's World Fantasy Award-nominated short story collection, American Morons, there are moments in each of these stories where the characters have a palpable sense of dread. Sometimes, this sense is false and the characters move on, shaken but still alive, while at other times, the dread proves to be a harbinger for something more ghastly than what the characters (and by extension, the reader) might expect.
American Morons contains seven stories within its 191 pages. The strongest of these is the title story, which deals with an American couple whose car breaks down in Italy and their "help" may have other things on their minds than being Good Samaritans. This story manages to hit all of the emotional buttons at the right time, causing the reader to take heed of the characters' plight, of their psychological problems, of the rising tension where the heart starts to pound and the breaths come out ragged and quick. "American Morons" serves as the perfect introduction to this collection.
However, many of the other stories do not fulfill completely the promise of the first tale. Sometimes things are explained a bit too much, letting the perceptive reader see the mirrors being employed for the narrative illusion due to take place. Other stories, like "Safety Clowns," take too long to develop and that crisis moment feels more like a "this sucks" moment rather than a "OMG! What can I do?" one.
Although these relatively minor flaws in pacing prevent me from believing American Morons to be the best of the five collections nominated for the WFA this year, the stories are worth reading and considering.
Summary: American Morons is a 2006 story collection that is up for a WFA for Best Single-Author Collection. Comprised of seven stories over 191 pages, American Morons takes "real-life" settings and twists and warps them in ways that provide moments of terror for the characters. Despite the strong promise of the opening title story, the other stories vary somewhat in mood and in quality, leading to a reading experience that ranges from superb down to merely good. Despite this, the stories have enough positives going for them to merit a read. Recommended for short story aficionados.
Release Date: October 2006 (US), Hardcover