John Langan’s fiction brings together two seemingly disparate strengths: his way of structuring narratives is often revelatory, and his stories and novels themselves are frequently unnerving. Langan writes horror fiction, but his isn’t so much about jump-scares as it is about being in the presence of the inexplicable. There are uncanny hauntings and bizarre fatalities in it, to be sure, but Langan’s horror takes a very different form from many writers in the genre, past or present.
Describing David Leo Rice‘s new novel ANGEL HOUSE is the stuff out of which madness arises. There’s a godlike being answering to mysterious, ominous superiors; there’s a town created spontaneously from a blank landscape; there’s a running subplot about filmaking; and the lines between consciousnesses occasionally blur. (I should mention here that I’m not entirely unbiased regarding ANGEL HOUSE, by which I mean that I blurbed this book.) Rice has created something here that conjures up memories of the works of Julio Cortazár and Michael Cisco: it’s primally unsettling and unnervingly compelling. I asked him some questions about it on the eve of its release this week.
Cody Goodfellow’s sprawling novel Unamerica is a heady, indescribable work of fiction. It’s literally a cult novel: Unamerica focuses on the conflict between two warring factions within a massive underground city located on the border between the United States and Mexico. It’s a surreal place abounding with strange subcultures, corporate overlords, and weird drugs. And, despite this novel’s size, it never lags: visions, violence, and a pervasive sense of danger are constants across the narrative. I talked with Goodfellow about the novel’s genesis and its overlap with the current state of American politics.
How does language speak truth to power? More specifically, how can language be used to rebel against power? The protagonists of Katherine Dunn’s three novels — 1969’s Attic, 1971’s Truck, and 1989’s Geek Love — are all positioned on the outskirts of society, sometimes by choice and sometimes not. (Dunn also wrote extensively about boxing: her 2009 book One Ring Circus collected her nonfiction about the sport, and her unfinished novel The Cut Man bears a title that alludes to the sport.) At the time of her death in 2016, Geek Love had been a cult classic for decades. In a lengthy article exploring its influence for Wired, Caitlin Roper called it “a dazzling oddball masterpiece.” She’s not wrong. It’s a novel that was nominated for both the National Book Award and the Bram Stoker Award, and that juxtaposition speaks volumes about Dunn’s aesthetic even if you haven’t read a word she’s written.
Janaka Stucky‘s haunting, intense readings are some of the most gripping examples of the form you’re likely to witness. His latest book, Ascend Ascend, is a powerful meditation on death, decay, and rebirth — the result of a composition process that involved trance states. In advance of his New York event with Atlas Obscura on May 11, we chatted with him about the new collection, the ritualistic elements of poetry, and his unique approach to readings.
The title of Nathan Ballingrud’s debut collection, North American Lake Monsters, simultaneously conveyed a sense of the pastoral and an abundance of menace. The stories within spanned a broad stylistic range, establishing just what Ballingrud could do — everything from deadpan surrealism to forays into the horrific. Collection number two opts for a different approach: this one’s called Wounds: Six Stories From the Border of Hell. Were you to guess that this ventures more overtly in the direction of horror, you’d be right, but even then, Ballingrud’s fiction showcases an impressive tonal range.
Two years ago, the Midwestern book tour I was on with duncan b. barlow concluded on a rainy Chicago night with a reading at Volumes Bookcafe headlined by Maryse Meijer. Hearing Meijer read from her debut collection, Heartbreaker, left me floored; since then, I’ve eagerly read her subsequent books, the novella Northwood and the new collection Rag. Meijer’s fiction is haunting in a host of ways, some of them literal: she brings the reader to the border of the uncanny and primal, while also tapping into something deeply modern and urgent. I spoke with her following the release of her latest book about her short fiction, the role of horror in her work, and titles, among other topics.
Moments of Resonance, the debut album from Munich-based saxophonist and composer Ralph Heidel and his band Homo Ludens, is the sort of work that eludes easy categorization. At times, Heidel’s work finds a fine middle ground between minimalist composition and post-rock; at others, there’s a more lush and sweeping element to the music. I talked with Heidel about the album’s genesis, the role of improvisation in his music, and more.