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Publisher's Summary

A chilling anthology in tribute to the genius of Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is a seminal writer of horror and mystery fiction, whose legacy resonates globally today. Chilling, human, poignant, and strange, her stories have inspired a generation of writers and listeners.

This anthology, edited by legendary horror editor Ellen Datlow, brings together today’s leading horror writers to offer their own personal tribute to the work of Shirley Jackson.

Featuring Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman, Carmen Maria Machado, Paul Tremblay, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Cassandra Khaw, Karen Heuler, Benjamin Percy, John Langan, Laird Barron, Jeffrey Ford, M. Rickert, Seanan McGuire, Gemma Files, and Genevieve Valentine.

©2021 Ellen Datlow (P)2021 Blackstone Publishing

What listeners say about When Things Get Dark

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Come for the Oates, stay for the rest!

A friend of mine recommended this collection to me solely based on our share adoration of Joyce Carol Oates’ creepy fare, and therefore, the first story I read from it was the author’s addition, “Take Me, I’m Free.” It did not disappoint. A new mother suffering from what appears to be post-partum depression places her four-year-old in a pile of discarded items on her tree belt, leaving her there as passers-by remark with astonishment that a child is sitting among the broken, misfit trash. Oates communicates the psychological horror of this snapshot in time while simultaneously unboxing the child’s eggshell-walking encounters with the mother in the past and the ones that lurk portentously ahead in the future. There are so many social commentaries afoot in this, one of the shortest stories in the anthology, but more importantly, it’s creepy as hell.

Two of the longer entries I enjoyed are from Elizabeth Hand and Benjamin Percy. Hand’s “For Sale by Owner” is a slow-build, new-wave gothic about three neighbors who share a secret love for urban exploration only to discover terror on an overnight escapade. Percy’s “Hag” is a folk horror-crime mystery stew that will make readers look at sleepy seaside towns in a whole new light. Josh Malerman (BirdBox)’s entry of the bunch, “Special Meal,” didn’t catch my eye at first because of its dystopian slant, but as the story progressed, its growing mood of menace swallowed my imagination whole. By the end, I wanted to run into every middle school Mathematics classroom and force each child to read it out loud.

My favorites in the anthology—outside of JCO’s gem, of course—included the opening number, “Funeral Birds” by M. Rickert, which follows a widow from a memorial service to the memories (and madness) of her mind; I won’t look at a tuna casserole the same again. In “Money of the Dead” by Karen Heuler, residents of an apartment building are offered the opportunity to resurrect lost loved ones; when the main character chooses to bring back her son, readers will be reminded (in a delightfully creepy way) of King’s old adage, Sometimes dead is better. Finally, “Pear of Anguish” may have wriggled into my heart because I, too, was an awkward, dark-minded pre-teen who sometimes befriended those even darker than me, and Files captures adolescent angst and psychological growing pains better than I’ve seen any veteran YA scribe do it.

I’ve always adored Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” It illustrates the power of quiet horror and leaves the reader with a sense of unease not easily shaken. Curator Ellen Datlow presents an array of stories that wield that same power. I’ll be thinking of many of these characters months from now, and I’ll never pass a roadside display of rubbish with a sign pleading with strangers to take items away without leaning in for a closer look.

4 people found this helpful

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good stories

I thought all the reader's were spot on I really love all the stories

3 people found this helpful

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TipToe was my favorite offering!

TipToe by Laird Barron ★★★★★
That sent shivers all the way up my spine and down again for more. I listened to the end three times.

Take Me, I Am Free by Joyce Carol Oates ★★★★½
That story was so short yet so painful. A little girl is put out with the trash by a mother with severe postpartum depression. Not everyone was meant to be a mother but that’s a bell you can’t unring.

Hag by Benjamin Percy ★★★★☆
Oooh, that took its time but had payoff! Every family needs a little mother-daughter vs monster bonding time.

A Trip to Paris by Richard Kadrey ★★★★☆
Whether it was the ghosts of her murdered family, toxic mold, or guilt, a family annihilator eats her own pie.

In the Deep Woods; The Light is Different There by Seanan McGuire ★★★★☆
Gorgeous little story about a recently divorced woman who moves into her deceased father’s lake house and befriends her fey neighborhoods. Woodfolk take care of their own and fey repay their favors with violent interest.

Funeral Birds by M. Rickert ★★★½☆
A home health care worker with a murderous secret is haunted by her last client.

Something Like Living Creatures by John Langan ★★★½☆
You can’t stop there! I want to know everything about these spooky pagan girls living in Maine. What did the organs say?!?!?

Refinery Road by Stephen Graham Jones ★★★½☆
Jones has this sturdy way of writing ghost stories - they are meaty and meaningful. It’s unique.

Skinder’s Veil by Kelly Link ★★★½☆
A doctoral student housesit’s for Death. There were several stories-within-the-story. The extra half star is for Turtle story, which was not the worst story she had ever heard about marriage. Man that made me laugh!

For Sale By Owner by Elizabeth Hand ★★★☆☆
Older snoopy ladies decide to slumber squat in a fancy house abandoned in the woods. Things get a little spooky.

The Door in the Fence by Jeffrey Ford ★★★☆☆
A boy’s memory of the odd widow next door who became “her own kind of woman.” This was quite odd but entertaining.

Pear of Anguish by Gemma Files ★★★☆☆
Ouch those preteen years are tough, for me they were harder than all of high school. Not everyone makes it, I remember the funeral. It’s best not to pick at those scars.

Special Meal by Josh Malerman ★★★☆☆
More of a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron than anything I have read or heard of from Shirley Jackson.

The Party by Paul Tremblay ★★½☆☆
With shades of The Masque of the Red Death we enter a party with dislikable characters. But by the end you are just at some awkward office party - lame.

Quiet Dead Things by Cassandra Khaw ★★½☆☆
This is about a town with ugly secrets I know not where or when. It was entertaining but it did not go anywhere.

Money of the Dead by Karen Heuler ★★½☆☆
No, bringing back the dead is never a good idea. This was sad and boring.

Sooner of Later, Your Wife Will Drive Home by Genevieve Valentine ★★☆☆☆
Not sure what this was meant to be other than depressing.

A Hundred Miles and a Mile by Carmen Maria Machado ★☆☆☆☆
As usual with this author, I wonder why I wasted my time.

I finished all 18 stories for a total of 3.2 stars.

1 person found this helpful

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It’s not like Shirley Jackson.

These stories try to be like Shirley Jackson but they seem contrived. They are not trying hard enough or maybe trying to hard. Disappointed.

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disturbing

the stories are varying disturbing so much so I had to stop listening and take a break.

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So good...

I'm always impressed by Ellen Datlow's edited anthologies. Every single story was just so good. Narration was also great. Some of the stories linger longer than others; for me, it was "For Sale By Owner" and "Skinder's Veil."

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Great for a Shirley Jackson fan!

Some of the stories hit the mark. A few I struggled with in making a connection to Shirley Jackson. Still this was an enjoyable listen.