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Review of Beautiful Darkness: A Collection of Fiction by Jay Wilburn

The language Jay Wilburn uses in his short stories snakes around you in a quiet way and you don’t even realize you are discomfited until you recognize there’s a chill crawling across your skin and up the back of your neck.


And your stomach feels a little queasy like you just ate a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting. With a whole container of dip. (Which I fully intend to also do at some point during this lockdown!)

But, back to the stories, it’s like someone reading you the story instead of you reading the words on the page. I can hear the voice and the inflection and holy crap I can still hear the phrase “…and he will not have it…” and even in typing this my skin prickles in that way I know some of you may experience, too, when you read the full sentence in context.

Whew, again.

Be prepared; these atmospheric stories bring laughs as well as that sensation where your nose turns red with the oh no don’t you dare cry feeling.

So, yes, I liked most of these stories: “Wow” to the “End of the Season” story and “Ah ha, ya ol’ bastard” to the “Back In” story and that twist that hits you almost right away in the story “Still” and boy did “The Last Surgery of Doctor Frost” freak me out in a way that few stories ever have, with the exception of a certain scene from a Poul Anderson…well, I can’t even remember whether it was a story or part of a novel…that I read when I was a kid. Those who know me well would be impressed that I even finished Wilburn’s story. Wilburn’s story totally gave me the creeps! (I haven’t been able to read Anderson’s work since, not even as an adult, after that one scene. And, no, I’m not going to repeat the scene here, but, trust me, if you’re an ailurophile, you don’t wanna know. Even if it was purely fiction.)

And I loved…LOVED…the “Curse of Light and Smoke” even though stories of a certain cryptozoology character have not yet put their mythic spell hooks in me. Probably because I’m a huge fan of the original, unadulterated creature that spawned the “myth” and it somehow feels sacrilegious.

The only story that left me in the dust was “Seersucker Motherfucker”. I’ll have to read it again when I’m able to get a print copy (if there is one available) but this tale just didn’t seem to have that same darkly evocative yet authentic and polished feel as the rest of the collection. It left me a little confused and definitely not hooked in the same way the other stories did. It felt more Wild West shoot-‘em-up rather than in the Southern U.S. bygone-ish culture I think it was supposed to be set in, and it didn’t really work for this born-and-raised/tenth- and eleventh- generation Southern gal. (For the record, I’m a bleeding-heart liberal leftist Democrat/Green Party/Independent voter and a feminist, environmentalist, and animal rights activist; whose ancestors on the paternal side are probably turning over in their graves.)

Get the book here!

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