I’ve never written a formal blog review of a novel *wipes sweat off forehead and grabs a tub of gas station nachos*. Soooo, thank you for sitting back, relaxing, and having a few laughs as I fumble my way through this article. *Clears throat*.
I’m always game for a collection; poetry, flash fiction, short stories, baseball cards, balls of yarn, wine, chocolate– especially the chocolate– you name it… I’m down. So it shouldn’t be shocking that when I first heard of Shadows in Salem, an anthology published in the fall 2016 by Salem, Massachusetts based independent press FunDead Publications, I was immediately fascinated. FunDead is run by Amber Newberry, author of Walls of Ash.
Salem, a coastal city in Essex County Massachusetts, was settled in 1626 and carries a haunting history with the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 which led to the recorded executions of twenty people; many more passed away while being held as prisoners. With that dark past, it’s no surprise that Salem is the modern day ‘hub’ for all things creepy-crawly.
From my initial impression of the professional, engaging cover that immediately made me regret reading it alone… in the dark… as rain pounded against the roof…(just sayin’), I began the work with optimism… and an added air of caution. Now, one thing I will say straight off is that as a reader I make a general judgement off two questions:
1.) What does the collection and each piece say to me about being human?
2.) Am I left wanting more? This question is two-fold; wanting more could mean I felt there wasn’t enough substance, or that the gesture was well-intended, but the work(s) failed to deliver. Wanting more can also mean it was brilliantly thought out and pieced together, and I couldn’t get enough, the latter being my initial impression of Shadows in Salem.
From the first story, Noah’s Dove by Laurie Moran I was pulled in. No, I mean literally pulled in to the bottom of the sea with the rotting ship Noah’s Dove. Talk about a ghoulish way to get stuck in history. One moment I’m reminiscing with Jerusha– love the name by the way– and the next, I’m taken down by a Tsunami-like wave. The horrific tale sets the perfect tone for the collection.
While we’re on the subject of the past, let’s look at The Devil’s Dance by Jonathan D. Nichols. A tale that takes place in 1691 and boy, that must’ve been one hell of a dance. Get it? Okay, I’ll stop, but seriously that’s one seventeenth century nightclub I wouldn’t want to attend.
In some instances, the past attacks you. In A Salem Secret by Melissa McArthur, Lauren is a patient in a psychiatric ward who is being haunted by a fiery witch. What could possibly go wrong? Guess you’ll just have to read the story to find out.
Inspection Connection by Bill Dale Grizzle is another piece where the past attacks, or takes out revenge in a rather gruesome way, but I’m not giving details because suspense.
One aspect I commend this collection and its writers on is believability in terms of the language fitting the time period. With Neither Love nor Mercy by Nancy Brewka-Clark works as a good example of this. Sometimes the scariest thing of all is the hate a person can have for another who is different.
Love and Oil by Jonathan Shipley paints a picture (see what I did there?… no? I get it, it’s not funny if you haven’t read the book.) of romantic scandal and dark secrets. While Little Brother written by Richard Farren Barber speaks to loss of a family member, more specifically a sibling. If you enjoy the voice of Stephen King, you’ll loving you some Richard Farren… seriously the eyes of those characters though. Still can’t get that out of my head.
Imagine the movie, The Village but imagine that in this village, the threat really exists. Scary right? Okay, maybe not for you because you’re sitting here reading this review, falling asleep with a cup of cocoa or glass of wine. Me? I’m drinking water right now. Stop distracting me… It’s certainly frightening for the town’s new parson. Makes you wonder where the last one pirouetted off too. Right? Find out by reading The Parson by Brian Malachy Quinn.
The collection ends as strong as it begins with a story entitled Dead Horse Beach by Amber Newberry. Worry not, no horses were actually harmed in the writing of this story. Some might’ve been painted, though. In what? You ask me, but you should know by now I’m not telling.
To answer the first question I posed at the beginning of the post, I’ll point to a common thread in all these pieces– the past. Does the past haunt us? What about mistakes we’ve made? Or, times we’ve taken shortcuts that resulted in negative consequences? While it’s good to remember the past and to learn from it, its ghosts can be as metaphorical as literal. Given enough agency in our lives, it can haunt and consume us, and perhaps, to me, that’s the scariest part of this collection.
What do we gain by learning from the past? Consider the Witch Trials for a moment. Now more than ever it’s imperative that we contemplate the consequences of hate and ‘other’ing. The crime of ‘Witchcraft’ was used as a vehicle to ostracize a group of people, the majority of which did not conform to social norms.
If When you read this collection, I challenge you to juxtapose the history of hatred with modern ideas you might be running across on social media.
Shadows in Salem, which can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com boasts a dedication to The Witch City and does an excellent job of speaking to that very dedication. One can’t help but become instantly engrossed in the multitude of talented voices spanning the works.
As I’ve said on short reviews I’ve written on Goodreads and Amazon:
this is one collection you’ll want to read with the lights on.