January 8, 2014


edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
304 pages, Miskatonic River Press

Review by S.P. Miskowski

Thomas Ligotti’s fiction is not an acquired taste. Either you’re willing to travel these streets and face the stark miseries there, or you’re not. Most readers like a bit of optimism, even in horror fiction. Most writers build suspense on the possibility, however unlikely, that their protagonist will triumph. Ligotti’s characters live in a realm devoid of promise, confirming our suspicion that all, ultimately, is for nothing.

For an in-depth study of Thomas Ligotti’s work, read S.T. Joshi’s The Modern Weird Tale. And don’t miss T.E. Grau’s fascinating interview with Ligotti.

All I can offer are a few impressions. The guy walks some creepy territory. His stories are often dreamlike in tone, with a mundane setting and ordinary circumstances employed to conceal terrible secrets. His monster is made of tedium, loneliness, and futility.

The world Ligotti presents is largely unknowable and overwhelming. More information tends to distort rather than clarify our perceptions. Our lives are wasted trying to understand minutiae, cope with the people around us, and navigate vaguely defined systems we can never master. People are mysterious. Relationships are periods of resignation punctuated by rupture and destruction.

What I admire about this fictional world is its pitch-black integrity. Ligotti doesn’t pander to any expectations about how things ought to be. He isn’t in the optimism biz. He isn’t here to reassure anyone.

The Grimscribe’s Puppets is a new anthology of original stories prompted by (and honoring) Ligotti’s writing. More than twenty exceptionally talented authors have contributed dark riffs on some of the maestro’s themes. Included in this volume:

"Furnace" by Livia Llewellyn

If you’ve read Llewellyn’s collection, Engines of Desire, you know she’s one of the great voices in weird fiction today. She has an unparalleled ability to construct a vast yet tangible universe in which individuals are shaped by forces beyond their control. "Furnace" is a small masterpiece of frustrated passion, depicting the untenable dreams of a girl oppressed by maternal phobias and memories.

"Pieces of Blackness" by Michael Kelly

A man becomes terrified of the six-year-old boy he and his wife have adopted. The father’s odd habits emerge as more than rituals when we realize that the child reminds him of something from the past. The disturbing elements of this story glide into place as neatly as a bullet entering the chamber of a gun.

"Diamond Dust" by Michael Griffin

The protagonist works at a company where everything is in flux. Each night he returns to the apartment his lover has turned into a chaotic studio, where she builds monstrous works of art from chunks of furniture. An all-too-plausible combination of downsizing and over-investment seems to infect everything. Our hero stumbles from one strange encounter to another, wondering how much of his fear is based on paranoia and how much is justified. Griffin brilliantly captures both the mood of current day North America and the doomed atmosphere of Ligotti’s "My Work Is Not Yet Done." The story culminates in an epic scene of mass labor enslaved to an unseen, frightening authority.

"After the Final" by Richard Gavin

Weird fiction doesn’t get much better than this. Gavin achieves a miraculous sleight of hand here, turning a deranged psyche inside out with a masterful shift in perspective.

"Eyes Exchange Bank" by Scott Nicolay

A guy who’s down on his luck decides to visit an old friend who is probably in worse shape. The ruined landscape of a typical American town is presented naturally, the outcome of greed blighting every corner. The two friends go out for a pizza and a few beers, trying to reminisce without admitting the crushing despair closing in all around them.

Editor Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. commissioned the stories in The Grimscribe’s Puppets, published by Miskatonic River Press. The results prove that Thomas Ligotti’s influence runs deep. For readers (like myself) who appreciate fiction that doesn’t try to sell false hope, this is a good sign.

Note: For reviewing purposes I received a paperback copy of The Grimscribe’s Puppets from the editor.

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