51hcxcgizyl-_ac_us218_“13 views of the suicide woods” is such a starkly lovely, lyrical line that it’s no wonder the author chose this title, among the 21 stories in the collection, for his book title.  It echoes Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” which opens with this famous haiku: “Among twenty snowy mountains / The only moving thing / Was the eye of the blackbird.”

Enough connections exist between story and poem that it seems likely the author had the poem in mind.  But who knows?  This is one of those questions where, if you have to ask the author, he has to not give you an answer.

For those seeking a great summer read, full of all the spookiness and cheap thrills a collection of horror stories could ever deliver, this book is for you.  If what you don’t want is literature, don’t pick up the book a second time.  If one defines “literature” as anything that’s even better on the second read, this book definitely qualifies.  The first read is fun, but it only begins to hint at the author’s virtuosity in this twisted little collection.

“The variations are the thing — the crazy patchwork quilt of sensation upon sensation . . .”

The book is filled with overt references to culture both high and low, which compete with the random, tenuous, often more interesting associations inside the reader’s head that may have little to do with reality.  How is it that the double-wide animal-hospital trailer in “Blood Makes the Grass Grow” makes me think of the movie version of Stephen King’s Misery, or the refugee/concentration camp in “Pure Blood and Evergreen” makes me think of 31 Days of Night and Black Robe?  There is no explanation for any of this, thank goodness, because therein lies all the fun.

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Bracken MacLeod

The variations are the thing – the crazy patchwork quilt of sensation upon sensation that splash obtrusively across the author’s canvas, calling forth impressions, settings, moods, ambience, memories.  Amazing that the author can so effectively convey the mindset of a six-year-old boy, a teenage hooker, an aging hippy, a female cop, and that every plot is different from the last one.  He is a pro, and as he plays his game well, he invites the reader to take the plunge and do the same, interactively working the imagination, oblivious to the rules.

The fact is that some of these stories aren’t horror stories, although, while you’re eagerly turning the pages, you barely notice.  The book is in fact not so much about suicide as it is about death – or life – or the inseparability and interconnectedness of the two – or how life involves terrible suffering – or how it’s just very sad, but still full of consuming mystery and things to laugh at.

“Almost too painful to read, if they weren’t so beautifully rendered.”

If you want to get a handle on the literariness of this collection, you might want to begin by focusing on the bookends – the first and last stories, which aren’t really stories, but instead powerful tableaux of life cum death, one focused on a lonely corpse just out of sight of busy rush-hour traffic, the other on a Muslim’s still-born baby, victim of a suicide bombing. Almost too painful to read, if they weren’t so beautifully rendered.

But if you’re more interested in cheap thrills and spooky mysteries – those most precious distractions of the genre – tweet me if you can figure this one out:  What really happened to that dog?

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