I was once travelling in a car, I do not recollect what day it was or month, but the scenes I see so clearly. The house, our house, my friends’ houses, our playground, our school, our market, our grocery shop still flashes across, like a happy memory, yet distant, someplace I’ll never set foot again, at least not for long at a time.
There was a time when everything was different, and there soon will be a time when everything will be different, again. As I leave, I try to imprint as much as I can in my head, the blossoming of the gulmohars and the ripening of the mangoes in summer, the harsh and wet rains, the sole fabric of extra layering required in the winters. I think I’ll miss our neighbourhood crows, parrots and pigeons too, for they kept me going when times were dull. I hope to fix up these happy memories in my eyes so as to remember and revisit the place forever and ever, without having to come back. The sad ones can be wiped out, or if possible be burned up, to never be restored again.
I read Dark Tales as part of a book club. It’s one of the first book clubs that I have participated in – ‘Women In Literature’ club, where we read one book per month by strong women authors. The club is hosted by two lovely women- Aritri and Mridula (@theliquidsunset and @ecstatic_yet_chaotic respectively, on Instagram). Dark Tales was the ‘Book Of The Month’ for July. Had it not been for this club, I don’t think I would ever have read it, looking at its title and the genre. But I’m glad that I did read it.
I have stayed away from watching horror for a very long time now. The last horror or paranormal movie that I remember watching is ‘ When a Stranger Calls’, when I was about 12. My entire teen was a story of ups and downs- except it was mostly downs. I had a really bad spell of low self-esteem, less-confidence, etc. for more than a decade. I only realized that I was suffering from it after I came out of this spell, feeling better than ever. I’ve never before touched a proper horror book in my life- except for some children-horror books. I found myself too weak for this genre. I hated it when horror and psychological thrillers in some way, triggered my worst fears and made me even more self-conscious. But currently, I am in a much peaceful mental space than I have been in the past many years, so i thought about giving this book a try.
Dark Tales is a collection of 17 short stories. Each story brings forth a different element. I won’t say that I really liked all these stories, in fact, I liked very few of these stories for their plot. But the fact that I was able to read this genre, after all, made all the difference for me. The book isn’t a regular spooky kind of horror, to be upfront, except a couple of stories. It’s a very subtle kind of horror- the kind which we see and observe in our everyday life, albeit a bit exaggerated with certain kinds of emotions and plot twists. My review could be biased based on three grounds: I’ve read very few classics, and liked even fewer; this is my first proper horror book; and also I don’t remember reading a collection of short stories like this before.
The author’s portrayal of emotions like fear, anger, etc. is so real that it haunts us even when the story isn’t spooky. It is said that Shirley Jackson, in reality, had lived a very sad and terrible marital life and these feelings did come spilling out very evidently through her stories. It’s as though she wrote a small part of her life in each of her small stories.
In some of the stories like ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘What a Thought’, the author plays with the mind of the reader till the very end and then drops a sudden plot twist. Making us believe in the flow of the plot initially, but ending in quite unexpected manner, like deceiving the reader itself!
Her style of writing changes twice or thrice by the time we reach the final story in the book. There was a case of Unreliable Narrator in the story ‘Paranoia’ wherein the protagonist was being stalked the entire time and we as readers, felt like walking in his shoes. The entire story was on uneven grounds, there was no firm narration to it – making us paranoid about which character to actually trust.
The foreword by Ottessa Moshfegh gives away some spoilers in the very beginning but it also perfectly summarizes and comments upon the stories and the writing style of the writer. This is one of those books where the foreword shouldn’t be missed at any cost. It was very necessary to set up the background, before the readers dive into the book.
My ratings: 4/5 ⭐
If you do decide to pick this book up sometime, it isn’t at all necessary to complete it in one shot. You can read the stories separately as they are completely independent of each other. If you are someone like me who has never ventured into this genre before, but would like to someday – this book is a good one to start with. It has just the right amount of darkness and spookiness for a beginner.
Is there a genre that you always seem to run away from? What do you think about horror stories?