The Hu­man Alchemy

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews | Adult Fiction - PETER DABBENE

Michael Grif­fin Word Horde (JUNE) Soft­cover $16.99 (332pp) 978-1-939905-40-6

The Hu­man Alchemy art­fully de­liv­ers creep­ing un­ease and heart-pound­ing scares cam­ou­flaged amid the fa­mil­iar trap­pings of ev­ery­day life. These are sto­ries that will haunt you more than any mon­ster.

“Psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror” might be an overused term, but there’s no bet­ter one to de­scribe Michael Grif­fin’s master­ful col­lec­tion of short sto­ries. Some are no­tably rooted in tra­di­tion; sev­eral were pub­lished in H. P. Love­craft–themed an­tholo­gies and mag­a­zines, and the ti­tle story is an in­ter­est­ing mod­ern-day twist on Franken­stein. But Grif­fin is best when his work is un­teth­ered, cre­at­ing his own hor­rific worlds, with just a slight tweak here or there to the one we in­habit.

There are hints of the su­per­nat­u­ral, but the driv­ers of these tales are their mostly av­er­age cen­tral fig­ures. These are peo­ple deal­ing with the messy con­se­quences of ad­dic­tion, in­som­nia, di­vorces, af­fairs—even sim­ply pre­par­ing their homes for mar­ket. In the book’s cen­ter­piece and high­light, the hun­dred-page “An Ideal Re­treat,” a woman trapped by her mar­riage and the life she’s created fi­nally finds an es­cape—sort of.

Grif­fin’s less-is-more ap­proach works won­der­fully, con­sis­tently ratch­et­ing up sus­pense without over­wrought de­scrip­tions. His lan­guage is rich and de­tailed enough to probe the deep­est thoughts of his char­ac­ters. One muses: “Some­thing more must ex­ist, some­where out there … in books, or in na­ture. Art, mu­sic. All these things hint at the sub­lime.”

Ge­og­ra­phy is an­other key el­e­ment of The Hu­man Alchemy; just as Stephen King’s sto­ries often in­habit a close-to-real ver­sion of Maine, Grif­fin’s char­ac­ters mostly re­side in Oregon. The use of Grif­fin’s na­tive area as a set­ting lends an easy re­al­ism to these sto­ries, not to men­tion a cer­tain, mostly sun­less, mood.

Grif­fin is a con­fi­dent and imaginative writer with a unique voice. Fans of hor­ror, or just fic­tion in gen­eral, would be well ad­vised to give The Hu­man Alchemy a try.

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