Gifts for the One Who Comes After: Surrealist fantasy at its finest

Book Review – Gifts for the One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall

gifts-for-the-one-who-comes-after-helen-marshal_book-review

Last month, while walking around the Horror Headquarters at the FanExpo here in Toronto, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a neatly decorated booth full of books. What first caught my attention was the impressive artwork on the covers and as I browsed the table and started reading the snippets on the back covers I realized I was in the right place. Most books were horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy which are the most riveting genres of books and, of course, my personal favorites.

I and the guy at the booth got to talking and it turned out that he’s the co-owner/publisher, Brett Savory, who along with his wife Sandra Kasturi, runs the whole ChiZine Imprint. I spent about half an hour there conversing about the books and the cover art and he gave me some great book recommendations. By the end, I left ChiZine Publications’ booth with 10 books and a smile on my face. The funny thing: I was at the Expo to get comics…

Helen Marshall’s Gifts for the One Who Comes After was one of them. A collection of stories that turned out to be like chapters from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone filtered through the lens of David Lynch. These tales are full of dream-like logic and surrealism. Marshall handles ambiguity like a master, she keeps you engaged even while you’re not really sure of what’s happening. These are the kind of stories that stay with you long after you finish reading them.

The world is not the place people imagine it to be. The world is full of pitfalls, and odd occurrences; it is full of hauntings and dark powers. The longer one lives, the less one comes to trust oneself in the perfection of the world, the more the struts of logic and reason are stripped away.”
– from ‘We Ruin the Sky’

Every story here shines, they all range from very good to great. I don’t recall enjoying prose so much in quite some time and Marshall’s fiction is reminiscent of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, not that the prose is similar to Barker’s in structure, but in flow and richness. She does the kind of writing where the words on the page are as important as the events happening within.

To do a story-by-story summary would just ruin the experience, but I do want to mention some of the stories in Gifts for the One Who Comes After that stood out for me. ‘Secondhand Magic’ plays like an origin story for a comic book villain where a kid magician disappears into a top-hat and comes back as something powerful and maybe not entirely human. ‘The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass’ is wonderful, with its telescope that can look back in time, it could have a whole novel or set of stories come out from it, I’d love to know more about how it operates and its implications. ‘Supply Limited, Act Now’ is a beautiful coming of age tale that channels The Outer Limits where a group of kids get their hands on a mail order shrink-ray that turns out to be real. Finally ‘We Ruin the Sky’ was fantastic as it had some of the most alluring passages in the book and I was constantly stopping while reading to reflect.

The horrors within these stories are not supernatural—not that I don’t appreciate those when they are present—but on Gifts for the One Who Comes After they are more real, more familiar. Like your father not loving you, being alone, leaving childhood behind, or simply, never really knowing someone that is in your life. Every story is a delight to discover, from the way Marshall plants a seed of expectation on the first paragraphs to the way she nurtures it to grow until their conclusion.

I must also give credit to ChiZine for the amazing edition because they went all out. Besides the attractive cover done by Erik Mohr, there’re seventeen impressive illustrations, done by artist Chris Roberts of Dead Clown Art, that accompany every story.

As you may have inferred by now, I have nothing but good things to say about Gifts for the One Who Comes After and Helen Marshall, so much so that when I went to the Word on the Street Festival two weeks ago I specifically visited ChiZine’s booth to get Marshall’s previous short stories collection: Hair Side, Flesh Side. Right now, it’s waiting in my to-read pile, which as any bookworm knows grows exponentially faster than the available free time to read, but the books there are always changing order so I’m sure I’ll be opening its pages sooner rather than later.

 

Gifts for the One Who Comes After
by Helen Marshall
ChiZine Publications

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