Brian Evenson. Windeye. Coffee House Press, 2012.
Reviewed by Micah Dean Hicks
Brian Evenson’s latest collection, Windeye, is a book that will ruin you. Between stories, you’ll get up to lock the door, look out your window, stare into dark corners. At the end of the collection, you’ll be dizzy, coughing, paranoid. You’ll be sure that you are “dim, lost, and, though with us, alone.”
These are old world stories, the images, characters, and problems ancient. Stories with candles and kings, fires in a winter forest, ink and blood. A character might hold out his hand to you, offering “three teeth. Canine, bicuspid, molar, each broken off roughly, above the root.” You might find a monstrous horse on a hilltop, “bigger than the others and with a coat so sleek it shone bright as a shivering pane of glass.”
The characters are damaged people, their lives reduced to a thin, sharp need by the loss of one important thing: a brother, a sister, a limb, an eye, a home. This loss saturates the characters, becoming all they can think about: “if he breathed wrong, more parts of the world would disappear.” Evenson may write about madmen, but there’s a sense that these people aren’t so far removed from us. Look away for a moment, these stories warn, and you too could lose everything you love. Evenson’s preoccupations feel unearthed from within our dreams. Storytellers with unsettling and uncomfortable tales, suffocating tunnels that go on endlessly with no way out, things gone missing and replaced with something wrong, people without faces, the dead mixed up with the living. Within these dreamscapes, the problems of nightmare have no solution. As the last line of “The Tunnel” makes clear, these stories end only with dread of what’s to come: “And then it got worse still, for all of them.”
Terror in these stories comes from two places. From within, our own uncertainty of the world and what we know is true, themes Evenson has a lot of fun with in “Knowledge.” From the dark things that well up from our own minds, like in “The Oxygen Protocol.” And
then there is the fear that comes from outside ourselves, from unknown and unknowable terrors: the evil horse in “Dapplegrim,” the strange boy in “Grottor,” the shadow people in “The Absent Eye.” No matter its origin, horror in Evenson’s world isn’t something we can understand or bargain with. Like the boy in “Grottor,” we can only submit when confronted with it: “He waited, mind slowly collapsing, for the darkness to take him.”
Published by Coffee House Press, the book itself is beautiful, wide and slim like a collection of poetry, the cover rubbery, slick, and bleeding at the top. It includes twenty-five stories that run the gamut from mystery to surrealism to fairy tale (readers may remember “Dapplegrim” from Kate Bernheimer’s popular fairy tale anthology, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me). But no matter their genre, each of these pieces is told in clean, tight language, the imagery stunning, everything fully imagined. And each tale is soaked in horror.
Brian Evenson is the author of ten books of fiction, including Fugue State, Open Curtain, and Windeye, all from Coffee House Press. Fugue State was named one of Time Out New York’s Best Books of 2009. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and three O. Henry Prizes, including one for “Windeye,” Evenson lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where he directs Brown University’s Literary Arts Department.
Micah Dean Hicks is an author of fables, modern fairy tales, and other kinds of magical stories. His work is published or forthcoming in over thirty magazines, including Indiana Review, Cream City Review, and SmokeLong Quarterly. His short story collection, Electricity and Other Dreams, will be out from New American Press at the end of 2012. He lives and teaches in Tallahassee, Florida.