by Mario Guslandi
Simon Strantzas is a Canadian author whose first story collection Beneath The Surface
disappeared into thin air after the publisher, Humdrumming, folded.
To compensate for that unlucky debut, Strantzas’ new collection appears
now as the latest offering from Tartarus Press, an imprint renowned for
producing gorgeous books featuring high quality fiction. Cold to the Touch
assembles thirteen strange tales that it would be a shame to classify
as horror or fantasy tales. Good fiction defies labels.
Take, for instance, The Uninvited Guest,
an unsettling piece where a weird woman (whose identity we can only
guess) shows up at a private party, bringing about disquiet both to the
party-goers and to the reader, or the excellent The Sweetest Song,
a mesmerizing, tragic, obscure tale full of hints, puzzling signs and
unanswered questions, starring a prematurely-widowed, strange girl, a
lonely uncle and a flock of peculiar birds.
Strange women abound in Strantzas’
stories such as the old crone with uncanny powers who literally gives
birth to a seed of hope in the deeply disturbing A Seed on Barren Ground,
a bleak story of loss and desperation.
The splendid Under the
Overpass pay homage to the childhood ghost, while the
allusive, upsetting The
Other Village portrays two ladies taking a doomed
to the Good Life is a (deliberately?) quizzical story
where the author's extraordinary storytelling ability makes up for a
rather unconvincing plot in which an unsociable girl is told a
nightmarish alcohol-induced experience by a man who's not really there.
Fading Light is a tale of loneliness and friendship,
imbued with a sense of emptiness and anguish.
In the ambiguous but quite effective Poor Stephanie a
young girl is forced to leave for a trip with her obnoxious uncle (and
we strongly fear for her) .
The title story, Cold to the Touch,
is the frightening account of an unlucky Arctic expedition by a
scientist trying to solve the mystery of some threatening monoliths
impervious to ice and cold.
The terrifying Pinholes
in Black Muslin depicts a group of people whose weekend at
a cottage by the lake turns into a tragic confrontation with the
overwhelming forces of a hostile nature. A tale of cosmic evil apt to
disturb and chill to the bone.
To me, the best story is Like Falling Snow,
an outstanding piece probing the meaning of life and death, featuring a
terminally ill woman living her existence's quiet, painful, melancholy
The delicate matter is handled by Strantzas with remarkable
craftsmanship, which makes the story a superior example of mainstream
And this takes us back to my
initial statement: to label Strantzas as a horror writer would be
unfair and too reductive.
He's just an excellent writer who likes to deal with the weirdest and
more mysterious aspects of human condition, who likes to disturb and
upset and manages to do that very effectively by emphasizing the dark
shades lurking behind the light of everyday reality.
Read Pinholes in Black Muslin
from this collection on the Tartarus Press
Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy. Most likely the only
Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, his
book reviews have appeared in a number of genre websites such as The
Alien Online, Infinity Plus, The SF Site, The Agony Column and
short story from this collection, Pinholes in Black Muslin shortlisted
for 2009 British Fantasy Award (see link underneath review to read the
bio: Simon Strantzas is the author of two
collections of nightmares and weirdness, Beneath the Surface
and Cold to the Touch,
and is currently working on a third. His work has been selected
multiple times for The
Mammoth Book of Best New Horror (ed. Stephen Jones). In
2009, his work was nominated for the British Fantasy Award.
with Simon Strantzas
this book (used or
Publisher': Tartarus Press
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