NOTE: This review was originally published at High Fever Books in May 2019. That website has been closed, so I am republishing it here.
Publisher: Undertow Publications
Release Date: October 16, 2018
Pages: 260 pages
My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Around the time I started reading Simon Strantzas’ new collection, I was in the midst of an obsession with the works of Robert Aickman. Maybe obsession is too strong of a word, but I’m going to stick with it for now. Though I think Aickman deserves to be filed in the horror genre, his stories aren’t always visibly terrifying. While he often plays with the tropes of the genre, the signposts featured take on a unique form. I’ve seen several reviews comparing the fiction of Robert Aickman and Simon Strantzas, particularly in regards to the collection I’m reviewing right now. I think that’s incredibly apt. They both exist in the same strange country, though Simon’s stories feel like the natural, modern, evolution.
While the comparison may feel lazy, I think that it’s important that I use this framing device to express how I feel these ten stories. Much like Aickman’s best, the tales featured in Nothing is Everything are not easily dissected. Though the language is clear, the events and subtext of each work is dense and often ambiguous. The first story in the collection (In this Twilight) is a good example of this. Focused on a young woman at a bus station, it comes with a melancholy edge. The unease and wonder that permeates the collection starts here, but the horror comes with a certain level of sweetness. Our Town’s Talent and These Last Embers follow, layering on two healthy doses of the unreal. Like Aickman, these stories feature locations and scenarios (the signposts) we’ve seen in the genre before. But unlike Aickman’s often clinical style, Strantzas uses emotion and expectation to great effect. I think I felt these most in the story ‘In the Tall Grass’. To say I was affected by this tale would be an understatement.
The last story I want to talk about is the final piece in the book. ‘All Reality Blossoms in Flames’ is a novella that follows art restorer Mae Olsen as she’s drawn into the web of an extremist group known as Enfants Terrible. As we live in the headspace of Mae, we feel the emotion and fears of an artist and woman lost in a world that she thought she understood. Statements are made about the nature of art and our place beside it. It’s a stellar story in a collection full of them.
Here’s my final word: Strange fiction is often a balancing act. If you go stick to close to reality, the story comes off as mundane. But if you drift too far off into the uncanny, the story becomes messy. While I think Simon does a great job of toeing the line, I don’t think every story worked for me completely. If you love a well-told strange tale, this is the perfect collection for you.