I find myself in a rather complicated relationship with short stories. It is a very unforgiving form. A novel is a bit like a nesting doll. It contains stories within stories and allows for micro successes in ways that a short story often cannot. Certainly, my bookshelves are lined with collections of short stories, but I always reach first for a novel as I’m often more prone to long narratives that provide me an opportunity to lose myself in the narrative for a slightly longer period of time. Brian Evenson, however, has long mastered the art of the short story. Studying Carver, Coover, and Lisch in his younger years, he crafts tight sentences that, on the surface seem rather matter of fact, but which haunt me long after I’ve put the book away. No matter how short, his fiction always leave me feeling as if I’ve traveled to some remote location, to some dark Eden where characters grow, or, as is the case in many of his stories, come asunder. Evenson is one of the few authors where I jump at the opportunity to read a collection of short stories. I have had the privilege to reissue one of Evenson’s earlier works, Contagion: and other stories on Astrophil Press, and I’m always eager to see the new approaches to writing that he takes with his newer books.
When I saw that Coffee House Press was planning to release Evenson’s latest collection of short stories A Collapse of Horses, I immediately contacted them and requested an advance reading copy. The collection is bundled with samples from forthcoming rereleases of three of Evenson’s previous novels: Father of Lies, Open Curtain, and Last Days, which makes the galley a little more cumbersome that I would have liked while traveling to Europe, but in the end, I found myself rereading the samples of the other books because they’re so good. A Collapse of Horses reads very differently than Evenson’s earlier work. The stories all have the Evensonian “feel” to them, insofar as they are bleak reminders of the worst of the human condition. However, I find more examples of Evenson’s dark sense of humor in these stories. “Past Reno,” for example, begins with the following lines: “Bernt began to suspect the trip would turn strange when, on the outskirts of Reno, he entered a convenience store that had one of its six aisles completely dedicated to jerky.” Knowing Evenson, we understand that this jerky is going to come back in a very strange and haunting way. And it most certainly does.
The endings to many of these stories are very different from most of his books. Though Evenson has never been one to present an absolute ending, these stories have endings that end on, as best as I can describe it, an inhale. Some of them I had to read twice to really feel comfortable with walking away from them. I really enjoy that I’ve been reading Evenson’s work for 15 years and he can still manage to make me reread a story immediately after reading it.
A Collapse of Horses isn’t dissimilar from Evenson’s other short story collections, as it jumps from tender stories about loss, absurd stories of love, and speculative fiction that straddles genre lines. One of my favorite stories in the collection is “The Dust.” Here, Evenson writes a psychological tale of murder that leans into science fiction. It has the tone of the Dead Space books he wrote under the name B.K. Evenson, but doesn’t completely surrender to genre.
On the surface, it may seem to the careless reader that this book is more of the same, but the subtleties contained within the stories show us that Brian Evenson is not resting—not relying on formula to craft his stories—that he is still the ever diligent student, reading widely and experimenting with his narratives. It’s good to know that there is still uncharted darkness for Evenson.
A Collapse of Horses
by Brian Evenson
Coffee House Press; 244 p.