North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

Nathan Ballingrud’s debut collection is just flat out great.

At the most cursory glance, many of the tropes of horror are represented. “Sunbleached” is one of the few vampire stories that has left me frightened and completely unnerved (with Kaaron Warren’s “All You Can Do Is Breathe” being another). His devastating novella “The Good Husband” features what could be described as a kept zombie. Werewolves tear through the opening pages of “Wild Acre,” a story that I’ve read and re-read, and will read again. A giant lake monster in the title story, a special kind of serial killer in the opener.

But it’s not about the tropes. They aren’t the stories. They’re just parts, as they should be. Ballingrud’s lyrical and intense stories play on deeply personal fears and anxieties of the social outcast, the people who struggle to maintain relationships (spousal, parental, etc). People who are us. Ballingrud’s stories pack an authentic emotional punch. No sentimentality here. Ballingrud doesn’t moralize and he doesn’t offer easy answers. You probably won’t like the protagonist of “You Go Where It Takes You,” but you’ll empathize with her; you’ll understand why she’s doing what she’s doing. And, ah, that’s the horror.

Ballingrud’s stories will keep you up at night, and you’ll continue to obsess over them for many days after.

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