Foreword Reviews

The Human Alchemy

- 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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