North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

Characters are important to me.  I enjoy a good premise, a twisty plot and some elegant prose, but if the characters lack complexity and pathos, the story inevitably falls flat for me.  For this reason, I often think that I won’t enjoy short stories.  Since there isn’t as much time and space for the characters to develop, I think that they won’t be as powerful as characters in novels.  I love it when I am wrong.

Nathan Ballingrud’s stories in North American Lake Monsters are terrifying and intense.  Some of them have supernatural monsters like vampires, werewolves, and reanimated corpses.  Some of them have monsters with a more human face like skin heads and abusive parents.  Most have both.  Some of them start at the beginning.  Most of them end in the middle, as stories do.  All of them have characters that are complicated and shot through with the stuff of real people – grief, anger, regrets, hope that they can be better than they are, and doubts that they ever will be.

There are 9 stories in this collection.  The first and the last stories are probably my favorites. In the first, You Go Where It Takes You, a woman ill equipped for single motherhood meets a man with a trunk full of skins.    The last story, The Good Husband, is about a man who is inspired to work on repairing his marriage after his wife’s successful suicide attempt.

Another strong showing was S.S., which scared the snot out of me.  In S.S. a teen aged drop out with a mentally ill paraplegic mother thinks he may have found a surrogate family of sorts in a gang of white supremacists.  Interestingly, the neo-Nazis are not the scariest thing in this story.

MRW I realized what was going on with Nick’s mom.

Did I mention that these are terrifying stories?  They are.  Read them, if you dare…


I am keeping on ongoing list of all of the books I have read in 2016 here.  Always looking for suggestions!






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