Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Look at Rick Hautala's Four Octobers

Four Octobers
Rick Hautala
Cemetery Dance
various ebook editions, $4.99
(print edition is out of print)

Cemetery Dance had a special earlier in the year in which, for a fee, you could get any (or all) ebooks in print or any forthcoming this year.  I decided to take advantage of the offer; this is one of the books I've gotten so far.  It's a collection of four novellettes and novellas.  I've been reading them one at a time between novels.  Now that I've finished it, I thought I'd pass on my thoughts.

Hautala has developed a reputation for being one of the top horror writers working today, both under his own name and his psuedonym A. J. Mattthews.  Earlier this year he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the HWA.  I'd read one or two of his short stories, but none of his novels, although I have one of the one bylined as by Matthews.

"Tin Can Telephone" tells the story of what happens when a boy mysteriously vanishes, and his friend begins to get calls from the future over their tin can telephone.  It's something of a science fiction piece, but rather than stressing the sensawunder aspect, Hautala emphasizes the fear of the unknown, bringing out the creepiness factor.

The next offering is "Miss Henry's Bottles", a coming of age tale in which a boy finds himself, not entirely willingly, doing chores for the creepy old lady everyone is scared of.  In the process he learns some startling things about himself.  While Miss Henry turns out not to be so scary after all, what he eventually learns about her turns his world upside down.

In "Blood Ledge" a middle school student makes a startling discovery when he finally works up the nerve to jump off the highest ledge at the swimming hole.  This one derives its impact from what he decides to do with this information. 

The first three stories are set in the late 50s through the early 70s and concerns children and teens.  The final tale, "Cold River", takes place in the early 00s.  A widower suffering from insomnia discovers there are worse things at night than not sleeping.  This was a ghost story, with lots of creepiness.  This was also the story that left me somewhat unsatisfied, primarily because Hautala doesn't explain everything.  While I don't expect every aspect of a ghost story to have an explanation, the motivations of some of the haunts need to make sense.  Perhaps I missed something, having started this tale late at night not being able to finish it for two nights due to fatigue, but I was left with more questions than answers.  I find that somewhat unsatisfying.  Your mileage may vary.

Overall, this was a quality collection, with plenty of creeps and chills.  Hautala does young protagonists well.  Many of the characters were about the same age I was when I first started reading scary stories, and these tales brought back memories.

I've got a collection of Hautala's short stories somewhere.  I think it's in storage, but if it isn't, I'm going to get it out and read them.  One a night.  After everyone's asleep and the house is quiet.