At 274 pages, Noir Carnival allows for enough time to cover many different short stories (20 in total) which should be great value for any fan of short stories. As mentioned in prior reviews, I prefer my stories in long form as I feel there is more time to develop concepts and I feel that short stories, unless written well, end up leaving me dissatisfied overall.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, during this review, if I really like the story, then the story is top notch as it managed to overcome my reservations. Whereas if I don’t, it’s probably down to my own preferences rather than any real faults of the author themselves.
Anyway, Noir Carnival the most recent collection of short stories published by Foxspirit and Editied by K.A. Laity. From the title I’m guessing that you can probably figure out that all the stories focus, in some way at least, around carnivals or circuses.
That certainly the route a good 60% of the stories take, with Caravan: A Preamble by K.A. Laity doesn’t buck the trend and instead goes cheap shock tactics as a sex offender meets his comeuppance via carney folk. It’s over in a few pages so it’s not too offensive at least.
Family Blessings by Jan Kozlowski is an interesting one, focusing on the plight of Lizi, who ran away to marry a man who is not all he seems. It was entertaining enough for the time it lasted and seems to fit in well with other midwestern American horror stories, though by the time I had read two thirds of the way through, I had guessed the ending and so the suspense was lost.
In The Mouth of The Beast by Li Huijia was quite a nice exploration of various elements, such as what happens after the fairytale ending, with a very meta idea of what it must be like for those characters to relive the same story over and over again and what would happen if they chose to escape that. It’s a tale of love and forgiveness over all others though and well worth a read.
Idle Hands by Hannah Kate covers the idea of a creepy circus that comes to a town and slowly destroys it. Lots of fun and the pacing is just right. The Things We Leave Behind by Christopher L. Irvin covers a WWII veteran’s hunt to rescue his brother from a carnival and went to some quite brave places. Shes my Witch, by Paul D. Brazill, is probably up there as one of my favourite shorts of the collection, turning the Noir genre slightly askew, with the tale of a hardboiled detective who happens to be a werewolf. Pulpy, but well aware of that, I would really like to see a follow up. The Mermaid Illusion by Carol Borden is the story Eudora, a supernatural being captured and forced to perform in a freak show by the slimy Dr. Griffen. Again, a very strong story that is more focused on the actions of Eudora and how she liberates herself than any spooky goings on. A good read.
Natural Flavoring by Rebecca Snow actually got me breaking out in cold sweats in the middle of a sunny day, it was so terrifying! I can’t remember the last time I did that, so consider it a must read! On the other end of things Madam Mafoutee’s Bad Glass Eye (by Chloe Yates) felt like it was so focused on leading up to the ending that I never really got a sense of who the characters were. Still, having a lesbian protagonist was a nice change, even if by the end something horrible had happened to them. Buffalo Brendan and the Big Top Ballot by Allan Watson covers carnie tradition and fears, with the protagonist suffering at the hands of them due to his wrongdoing. Carne Levare by Emma Teichmann is a sort of mystical time travelling horror set in Italy and one that, despite my initial reservations, I really enjoyed due to the almost dream (or should I say nightmare?) like feel it evoked.
Leave No Trace by A.J. Sikes seems to cover the process of growing up in a small seaside town. It recognised some of the feelings from my own past and whilst I wouldn’t say it’s great (a bit too much of a grab bag of ideas to really focus on one idea) it works well enough whilst reading. Fair by Robin Wyatt Dunn is very weird and to be honest I think it’s too smart for me to pass judgement on it properly. So give it a read but expect to come out confused. Things Happen Here After Dark by Sheri White is generic. I didn’t mind it, but it’s pretty forgettable all told. Mister Know it All by Richard Godwin covers carnival life, focusing of the tale of Eddy and his long suffering partner Mandy. Eddy’s pretty much scum, so by the end of the story he meets his end. It was interesting reading a story where the main character was someone I hated.
Trapped by Joan De La Haye once again approaches the narrative from an unusual perspective, but by the end it doesn’t really have that much of a satisfying ending. The Price of Admission by Neal F. Litherland is probably the highlight of the collection for me, evoking a very Neil Gaimen feel to the story and giving the impression of a world much bigger that what is covered in the story itself. Take Your Chances by Michael S. Chong was a sort of pseudo morality tale about abusing the gifts given to you. It was nice at least that the story seemed to use carnival slang, which led an air of authenticity to it. Mooncalf by Katie Young is about a guilty young man looking for his friend and though it treads similar lines to The Things We Leave Behind, goes in a different direction, with a much poorer ending. The Teeth Behind the Beard by James Bennett touches the Noir genre again as Louis McCaw investigates a fatal shooting at the nearby Sideshow City. An above average story with a nice reveal at the end.
Overall, I guess that most anthologies are going to be rather hit and miss, especially Horror ones. Regardless, it has some real standouts and for the price I really can’t knock it.
Image courtesy of FoxSpiritBooks.