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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

What I'm Reading: New John Langan Story Collection Sefira and Other Betrayals [with a bonus display idea at the very end of the post]

Hot off the presses, it is a brand new story collection by one of the most critically acclaimed horror authors of this era but because he mostly publishes in smaller presses, you probably don't know about him. Well, read this review and then order the book [and The Fisherman if you don't have that Bram Stoker for Superior Achievement in a Novel winning title either]. Also, check your collections, because I am pretty sure most of you own another one of his collections, Mr Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters. I know I had it in my collection, and that was before I knew anything about Langan, but it was widely reviewed and in a very positive manner.

As a reviewer with a focus on getting horror books into public library collections, I know that part of my job is to identify titles that should be reviewed. Thankfully, Booklist wants help in making sure they review these smaller but important titles because they understand that a review in their journal holds a lot of sway in purchasing decisions [honestly, it's one of the main reasons I review for them because they care more about getting good books into libraries than making money; remember Booklist is part of ALA, a nonprofit].

All of this is a preamble to me not only telling you to read my review and order this book, but also, consider good books by smaller publishers in general, even if I haven't gotten to review them. There are thousands of good books being published every week and not enough reviewers to get to them. Fight for these small press titles, especially because many would be adored by your patrons. Like this one....

Sefira and Other Betrayals.

Langan, John (author).
Apr. 2019. 352p. Hippocampus, paper, $20  (9781614981923)
First published April 19, 2019 (Booklist Online).

A regular in yearly speculative “best anthologies,” Langan returns after winning the Bram Stoker Award for The Fisherman [2016] with a collection of eight stories. As he writes in the excellent notes section that appends this volume, after surveying his output of uncollected stories, Langan realized that six of his previously published stories and two he had not yet finished all focused on the uncomfortable and terrifying theme of betrayal; and thus, this collection was born. In one of those new pieces, the titular novella “Sefira,” a jilted wife goes on a road trip to confront her husband and the creature who seduced him but along the way she is also transforming into something horrific, underlining to complexity of the emotions around the sin of betrayal and the horror of its effects on the betrayed. Lanagan is a master of the short story form period, he just happens to ply his trade through a lens of the terrifying and supernatural. However, that frame should take nothing away from the literary nature of these layered tales full of thought provoking dread, relentless monsters, and the lyrical beauty of the words that ties it  all together. Like all of his work, the plots here are easily explained, but it isn’t until each word is read that we see Langan’s unique ability to use literary fiction techniques to do more than tell a scary story. These are compelling tales of the weird, macabre, and just plain terrifying, stories that beg to be experienced not just consumed much like the award winning genre bending works of Caitlin Kiernan, S.P. Miskowski, and Laird Barron.

Further Appeal: Okay, let's talk a moment about that awesome cover, a cover that is representative of a story in the collection [but you have to read it for yourself to find out which and how]. But more than that, wow, this would work well on a display. Put this book cover out and I promise you, people will pick it up, handle it, read the back, and possibly take it home. And isn't that our goal-- to put books on the shelf that people will take home and read?

But back to the words between that cover. I think the most important thing you need to take away from this review is that these are stories that will stay with readers. They will scare people, yes but much of the fear and dread doesn't come from the monsters themselves, but in the way in which Langan uses those monsters and terrifying situations make readers think about themselves. 

Betrayal is such a complicated and visceral thing. Everyone knows what it feels like. Not only has everyone has made a bad choice when they were betrayed but also, everyone has betrayed someone once in their life [even if it was a small betrayal]. These are feelings everyone can relate to yet no one wants to think about because of the bad ways in which these feelings effect us. It is a brilliant frame for horror since uncomfortable emotions immediately rise to the surface on their own, but the stories are better than just that taking advantage of these reflexive emotions.

These are gorgeous, literary tales that will encapsulate you, enclosing you in the world of the story, only grudgingly letting you go when you put the book down and walk away. But beware, they might follow you. And that's why it is such a good collection. The betrayal frame just amplifies it.

Three Words That Describe This Book: lyrical, thought provoking, macabre

Readalikes: The three authors I mention above are great choices, but really any authors of thought provoking, literary styled horror, especially of, but not limited to, the weird variety would work. Other authors I listed as possible readalikes while I was reading this book were Stephen Graham Jones, Paul Tremblay, Nadia Bulkin, Carmen Maria Machado, Victor LaValle, and Jeff VanderMeer. I have linked all of those author names to other places on my blog where I have mentioned them and reviewed their work so there is plenty of information for you to use to handsell this Langan title or any of the titles mentioned here.

In fact, there is enough with these links combines here for you to make a display. Get an entire display of these unsettling, thought provoking horror titles out. Market them as readalikes for fans of the movie Us or Get Out. And then sit back and watch them fly off the shelves.

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