August 4th, 2011


This Little Light of Mine

In the horror genre, there's a long history of books and films about people trapped in the dark with something frightening (The Descent and Pitch Black spring immediately to mind, as do certain scenes in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House). It's a trope for a reason: it works. The less we see of the threat, coupled with the more we learn of the consequences should the light ever die, the more terrifying the story becomes. It works on a primal level, it's our fear of the dark safely explored and played out through the distancing lens of fiction.

Nate Southard's This Little Light of Mine, a 50-page heebee-jeebie of a chapbook from Burning Effigy Press (publishers of my own award-nominated chapbook General Slocum's Gold, plug plug!) joins this long-standing tradition by telling the tale of two strangers, Brandon and Clair, trapped together in a collapsed parking garage after a catastrophic earthquake. With only the dying headlights of the surviving cars to give them light, and no food or water, things already look pretty grim as they await rescue. But when rescue doesn't come and they discover something else is in the parking garage with them, something hungry that doesn't like the light and keeps to the shadows, grim hardly begins to describe their chances.

This is a compelling and seriously creepy story that at times actually had me nervous about turning the page. I hate to reduce a written piece to whether or not it would make a good movie, but this novelette seems ready-made for a low-budget horror film: one set, two actors, and a riveting, nerve-racking situation. The plotting and pacing work perfectly.

Southard's only misstep, in this reader's opinion, is in his description of the creatures that torment Brandon and Clair. I think it would have worked much, much better if we'd never gotten a good look at them. As it is, we get too good a look, with Southard describing them in so much detail that, ironically, they become harder to picture. When it comes to monsters hiding in the dark, my opinion will always be that less is more.

With regard to the prose itself, Southard is serviceable but, with a little more time to cook, he could really shine. Here, I found his adjectives needlessly and distractingly aggressive--eyes slam shut, realizations punch through chests, emotions and pain both stab into skulls--and a little more emotional depth wouldn't hurt.

But these are the nitpicks of a fellow writer, not a reader. As a reader, I can say with confidence that This Little Light of Mine rocks. Pick up a copy. You may spend a few nights sleeping with the light on afterward.

Coming up next, the long overdue return of the Straubathon!