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The New Black

BOOK: The New Black
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The New Black
ought to be the New High Standard for dark fiction anthologies. It's loaded with intelligence and talent. Every one of the pieces in this extraordinary compilation is worthy of your full attention.”

—Jack Ketchum,
author of
The Girl Next Door


The New Black
is a great collection of incredibly unique fiction. I honestly liked every story in here, and I usually don't say that about an anthology. It was also nice to encounter so many authors with whom I was unfamiliar. A strong compilation of talent—very strong.”

—
Shock Totem

“There's depth to darkness, a richness waiting for those who have the patience to let their vision adjust to it. Rembrandt knew that; it's there in the voluminous shadows that wrap around the figures in his paintings. So did Poe: it's the note sounding underneath the stories his narrators tell us. And so do the writers Richard Thomas has assembled for
The New Black
. At this point in our shared history, it's no secret that those things closest to us,our family, our memory, may be full of night. What is remarkable is what the writers in this book succeed in telling us about that darkness, what shapes they discern within it. A showcase of some of the most exciting writers at work today,
The New Black
is not to be missed.”

—John Langan,
author of
The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies

The New Black

Edited by Richard Thomas

Foreword by Laird Barron

CONTENTS

Foreword: Eye of the Raven
Laird Barron

Introduction
Richard Thomas

Father, Son, Holy Rabbit
Stephen Graham Jones

It's Against the Law to Feed the Ducks
Paul Tremblay

That Baby
Lindsay Hunter

The Truth and All Its Ugly
Kyle Minor

Act of Contrition
Craig Clevenger

The Familiars
Micaela Morrissette

Dial Tone
Benjamin Percy

How
Roxane Gay

Instituto
Roy Kesey

Rust and Bone
Craig Davidson

Blue Hawaii
Rebecca Jones-Howe

Children Are the Only Ones Who Blush
Joe Meno

Christopher Hitchens
Vanessa Veselka

Dollhouse
Craig Wallwork

His Footsteps are Made of Soot
Nik Korpon

The Etiquette of Homicide
Tara Laskowski

Dredge
Matt Bell

Sunshine for Adrienne
Antonia Crane

Fuzzyland
Richard Lange

Windeye
Brian Evenson

Acknowledgments

EYE OF THE RAVEN

1.

A
t heart, I prefer the bleak and the horrific. Horror with a capital H. Doesn't matter whence it springs. Nonetheless, I was weaned on the hard stuff. Jim Thompson. James M. Cain. John D. MacDonald. Stephen King. Shirley Jackson. The Brothers Grimm. Noir, horror, and fairytales are all bound together with barb wire and blood, you see.

If I may be so gauche as to quote an essay I once wrote about a fabulous author of noir named Pearce Hansen:

“There is a peculiar synergy between noir, crime fiction, and horror. It wouldn't surprise me, were I to analyze it more thoroughly, that John D. MacDonald, Donald Westlake, and Robert Parker tales of hard boiled modern day knights, treacherous scoundrels, and sloe-eyed vamps and the assorted skullduggery sum and sundry found themselves enmeshed within had as much or more to do with my becoming a horror writer than the bloody works of King or Barker.”

As a kid, I loved crime and westerns, the real deal fairytales, and the authentic myths. Not the sanitized, abridged, vetted iterations we were dosed with at school. The unvarnished ones where Snow White burned the Queen's feet in red hot iron shoes, where heroes were betrayed by their lovers before dying awful deaths, or the gods went down in smoke and thunder and left Man alone in a cold, remote part of the cosmos. The secret to my fascination with noir is that as a tradition it cleaves so close to horror that it might've hatched from the same egg. Horror and noir are as mercurial as vast oil slicks upon the ocean—solid, primitive objects that nonetheless flow and shift with the currents.

In order to get a handle on the icepick that is the new black, it's instructive to look at the old black. The old black is a tradition that extends at least back through the mists to the gaslight era and Edgar Allan Poe. Classic noir shines like the moon in an austere nightscape, as cold and cruel as a raven's eye.

Noir: a dark, bitter seed that blooms into strange and cold life. It is associated with crime and starkness. Sexual deviance. Frequently, it has served as the mantle of the hardboiled and the hard cases of film and literature. Again, mirroring conservative horror, noir often functions as a filter of dark, dark morality. Its tropes and leitmotifs are legendary. Honor among thieves; double-crosses; femme fatales; skullduggery; the betrayal of lovers; the inversion of polite society's code. Good or evil, you get what's coming and what's coming is dreadful. Because the sad fact is, the universe is a dreadful place.

There's a thousand ways to die in the naked city. And more ways being invented every day.

2.

One night during the spring of 1995, James Ellroy stepped into the living room of my brain and made an adjustment to the television set. He clicked the dial to a notch between the engraved numerals, and the snowfield resolved into a psychedelic horror show. Its imprint remains permanently branded upon my imagination. At the time, I'd taken berth upon a salmon processor traveling the Bering Sea. We'd shut down the machinery and dimmed the lights in the hold after the eight consecutive fifteen hour shifts. Our vessel weighed anchor and began to chug along a forty-eight hour vector toward the next rendezvous with the fleet. When not comatose in their bunks, the majority of crew entertained themselves with booze, endless tournaments of gin rummy or dominoes, and marathon VCR sessions in the lounge. A deckhand from Seattle, among the two or three bibliophiles lurking aboard the ship, knew of my interest in Joseph Wambaugh and Martin Cruz Smith, and that sort of thing in general. He went into his stacks and loaned me a beat to hell copy of White Jazz. I wolfed it down. After that, it was, as they say, on.

White Jazz
is a knockout crime novel, but also something new and strange, just as Patrick McGrath's
Spider
and Stewart O'Nan's
Speed Queen
and
A Prayer for the Dying
took the genre in strange and terrifying directions. We're witnessing a refinement of the ever-replicating mutation in the works of Donald Ray Pollack, Craig Davis, Kaaron Warren, and Gillian Flynn. And of course, new black or old black, masters such as Tom Picirrilli, Joe Lansdale, and Jack Ketchum prove with every new book that they never went anywhere. They are alive and well and spinning webs in the dark, just like the new bloods.

3.

The darkness has built like nightfall thickening and clotting at the edge of the horizon. What's here between these covers has been on its way for years. Literature is a process of assimilation. Authors are always in conversation with themselves and with those who came before. Authors push back and redefine. It is punch and counterpunch.

There's a subtle distinction between neo-noir and the tradition it has inexorably transformed. Or, perhaps, we're witnessing an iceberg calving from the great central mass that has accreted over the decades. If you've followed the genre, the trend is unmistakable. Otherwise, what's awaiting you in this anthology might come as a bracing splash of ice water. In either case, you're in for a treat. Crime is not necessarily the molten core of this contemporary machine. Nor are the characters necessarily of the hardboiled variety. Indeed, the contemporary narratives are far from hidebound. When you get down to brass tacks, neo-noir simply means dark fiction, and even within that niche, there's a hell of a lot of territory to cover. Here in this new century, ideas and plots of neo-noir have picked the locks and run amok. It's a fascinating time to be a fan.

From the mouth of Harry Angel in
Angel Heart
: “Today is Wednesday, it's anything can happen day.” That's neo-noir twenty-odd years down the road—a snarling ball of tragedy, absurdity, and menace. It's a southern gothic, and it's a bloody mystery set in the wilderness, or a Peckinpah-worthy massacre among the stars. Anything can happen, and it can happen to anyone. Certainly the criminals and the cads will find themselves more readily subsumed by the forces of darkness. Provenance is always a prime consideration in these matters of the human heart. Even so, you don't have to be a bank robber or an embezzler; you don't need to be an adulterer or a con artist. Not in the multiverse of the new black. You simply have to draw breath. All it takes is a misstep, an honest miscalculation, the injustice of being in the wrong place at the right time. Then X marks the spot and you are in the soup.

It bears reiterating: The noir universe has always been a dreadful place. Baby, with neo-noir the neighborhood just took a turn for the worse. Rules are out the window, the physics of morality, ethics, and fair play smashed to powder and in the wind. Reality is on a permanent vacation. This universe is more about guidelines in sand, passwords that are randomly overwritten, splinter cells and half-enunciated shibboleths. Maybe this particular cosmos is a yearning, sentient thing that longs to right its scales. Maybe it understands nobody is truly innocent. Blood pays for blood. We all get what we paid for in the end. Maybe that's what matters. Maybe that's what we need to hold onto when we're navigating through the dark.

4.

Richard Thomas has assembled a hell of a rogues' gallery. These writers cover a spectrum of genre and lit fiction. Some of these names are familiar—Paul Tremblay has written crime novels about a narcoleptic P.I. knocking around the mean streets of Boston, horror collections, and a dystopian masterpiece. Brian Evenson recently penned a magnificent collection of surreal horror called
Windeye
. Evenson, long championed by no less a literary light than Peter Straub, will blow your doors off with his high-powered writing. Much of his work is steeped in the kind of psychological darkness that would make the aforementioned McGrath and Ellroy flinch. His weapons of choice are allegory and symbolism and magic realism that shrills a reed of bones with echoes of Kafka and Borges. Stephen Graham Jones owns a bibliography that a giraffe could wear as a floor-length stole. I consider him among the best living genre writers. No one captures the jaded innocence of youth nor the laconic expressiveness of the disaffected better than Jones, and no one surpasses his command of a Dali-esque stream of conscious delivery. Meanwhile, Benjamin Percy is bringing the fang and fur set back to prominence with his novels that blend pulp and literary sensibilities in a way that has ignited his career like a rocket.

However, keep your eye fixed upon the rising stars herein—Tara Laskowski's clinically macabre narration, the mounting dread that radiates from Matt Bell's icy miracle girl, or the pedal to the metal horror brought you by Micaela Morrissette and her little…friend. There's more, of course. A lot more of the dark side of the imagination waiting to spike you in the eye, and it will. But it's not my remit to spoil the pleasure of discovery.

So, now it comes to this, the hour of the wolf, the tap of the raven at the sill. In a few moments you will descend upon a dark odyssey into a realm of exquisite derangement. Turn the page and behold a panoply of the macabre, the sinister, and the inexplicable in all its grotesque splendor.

 

— Laird Barron

October, 19, 2013

Rifton, New York

INTRODUCTION

I
f you've read Laird Barron's brilliant foreword and aren't in the mood to hear me gush about the twenty authors in this collection and my personal stories of inspiration, failure, and fulfillment, then by all means, skip ahead to the first story and dig right in. I totally understand, and won't hold it against you, my friend. But, if you'd like to hear how this collection came to be, and why I selected these specific stories and authors, then read on. You might find it interesting.

A strange series of events brought me back into the world of writing, editing, and teaching at the age of 40 years old. I remember seeing the movie
Fight Club
, and then later, discovering that there was a book by some guy named Chuck Palahniuk. After working my way through all of his books, excited by his fresh, transgressive voice, I ran across a website called The Cult. It was there that I discovered a community of fans and writers that seemed to be of a similar mindset. That got me to The Velvet and a trio of authors that were writing something called “neo-noir” fiction. As you may (or may not) know, neo-noir simply means “new-black.” I fell in love with the written word all over again, and it inspired me to start writing.

BOOK: The New Black
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