The Inconsolables by Michael Wehunt
A Horror Book Review by Michael Botur
Seven years since Atlanta author Michael Wehunt set a high standard for lyrical prose with the acclaimed Greener Pastures, the Southern Gothic short story specialist is back with a collection of ten tales. The reason for the title? Wehunt says the book is about “All the ways you can be inconsolable” from a woman whose brother was sucked into a white supremacist cult, to people who have lost their children and partners. The book is like a fresh album from a band you love: Same number of tracks, same feel, with plenty of inventiveness to make horror fans jealous as we read about mimes, marriages, message boards and empty churches and say to ourselves, “Damn… I never thought that could be scary.”
Indeed, you can expect Michael Wehunt to give you cursed videos and DVDs, a supernatural force in the shape of a mime, and a story about, well, himself.
In ‘Vampire Fiction,’ the wife and daughter of a young father named Fulton leave him. While alone, his lifelong obsession with vampires deepens, and it’s not long until his women return – although either Fulton has changed, or his family have.
In ‘Holoow,’ faces in the window change the meaning of an old woman’s last days (the title is quintessential Wehunt – routine everyday English, given a cold coating.)
In the hard-to-remember-what-it’s-called-but-this-is-the-most-obvious-title, ‘Caring For a Stray Dog (Metaphors)’ our hero Kent is emotionally adrift in Georgia and the Carolinas after the murder of his daughter by a gun-wielding maniac shooting up a primary school. Driving aimlessly to walk an adopted dog on stray beaches, Kent finds himself called to haunted churches, inside of which a foul force is waiting to take advantage of his grief and outside of which, creepy child-like creatures await – hoping to scare him towards moving on with his life. Wehunt quotes Robert Frost in this one – reminding us of the author’s passion for poetry (see our interview with Wehunt in which he explains the reasons behind his poetic style). Check out the site tomorrow for the interview.
In ‘The Pine Arch Collection,’ Wehunt sets his work within the creepy atmosphere of late night videos, TV screens and anonymous internet images – perfect for an age in which we’re all shuddering at the likes of The Ring and Antrum and Skinamarink. This story has a group of found footage horror film buffs talk digitally (though they never meet), agonising over some creepy film – until the camera turns on the audience. This one links to the universe of a story in Wehunt’s previous collection, Greener Pastures. The entire story is ‘found,’ like a documentary, and perhaps the creepiest aspect is the concept of the protagonist receiving emails from an impossible email account with an alien suffix.
Fascinatingly, in the real world, fans are beginning to discuss the Pine Arch Research collective online, creating a group of online stakeholders fascinated about fiction about online stakeholders who are fascinated about… you see our point. In publishing horror online about publishing horror online, Wehunt’s life is imitating the art, and his art is imitating life.
‘The Tired Sounds, A Wake’ (24,000 words) may be the most lyrically-titled of a whole collection of lyrical titles. This long story begins with a man experiencing a gulf between himself and his wife – a recurring motif in Wehunt’s world of drifting men trying to cling to daughters, dogs or hope of reconciliation with lost loves. It soon takes the focus off the man, though, and we enjoy the woman’s perspective every second chapter within the novella.
It’s typical of Wehunt’s approach in that it’s told in third person. In this story, a couple efface themselves and wrestle with their strained relationship as their silver wedding anniversary arrives, while a creepy mime-like being hovers at the edge of their vision and paintings which seem simple on the surface say a lot more. Wehunt writes in this one, ‘She watches the line of light around the window grow from rose to an orange-yellow hint, forming a slow portal to something in the dark. Brief kitchen noises, the pert chime as the front door opens, then she hears gravel pop and grit its teeth under the car tires’ and shortly after, ‘The sun slid above the horizon across the water, like a coin rejected from the earth.’ Ever the poet, you’ll be impressed how many ways Wehunt has to describe the sun.
Wehunt seems to have always specialised in describing angst, too. Wehunt makes depression beautiful, giving exquisite portraits of frustrated people enduring visits from horror which usually point them towards a cathartic release.
Describing the crumbling couple in ‘The Tired Sounds, A Wake,’ he writes:
“She throws salads together and they eat in the dining room like civilized people. Lorne is smiling, eager, but she imagines the word ‘divorce’ on the table between them, an amorphous thing full of legs and silent eyes. She doesn’t want it to squat there, sluggish and myopic. Their forks scrape the wooden bowls.”
‘The Teeth of America’ is a painfully original story. This one answers a profound and ‘Holy shit, I never thought of that’ question: what if Two Term President Donald Trump’s dog whistles inspired a multitude of white pride groups to congregate in the woods of Georgia, form a people-pyramid and evolve – or devolve – into something very white, but not very human. This is told with one of Wehunt’s recurring devices: Found footage, with a splash of imaginary journalism for that cold, clinical ‘Could it be real?’ horror framework.
‘It Takes Slow Sips’ again uses found footage. Here, another lonely man – this one, a bit of a stalker, almost an incel – commissions some surreptitious footage of a woman he won’t let go, although the camera becomes turned on the man himself.
In ‘A Heart Arrhythmia Creeping Into A Dark Room,’ Wehunt writes about a horror author. An author the same age as him… with the same life as him… with a publisher named Doug. We realise it’s an autobiographical story, with the protagonist tortured by a panicky heart coinciding with – or caused by – a Frankenstein-themed anthology he’s been tasked with contributing to. The writer’s mind wanders, he gets anxious, and thinks about thinking about things and his visions conjure a huge range of supernatural beings.
I wondered, reading this, if the author himself has a ‘mythos’ or link between the nasty beings which sour the characters’ lives, Lovecraft-style. It would seem each horror is confined to one story alone, although a fragment of poetry hints at the Wehunt-iverse as he writes, ‘These American mountains, ancient things in a land we pretend is new’ (Wehunt expands on the concept of a potential mythos in his Gingernuts of Horror interview).
All in all, The Inconsolables finds Wehunt writing about American civilisation resting atop a foundation of ugly monsters which seem to exploit people’s neuroses and harass people when they let their guard down.
The freshness of the milieu of the characters should stand out. These characters are encountering things, doing things and thinking things that put them firmly in 2017-2023, from Trump to the KKK to mass shootings to Creepypasta.
Read Michael Wehunt’s new collection and you’re reading one of the most original writers in contemporary horror, serving up his signature dishes.
Buy The Inconsolables and Wehunt’s other work at https://michaelwehunt.com/
Check out top quality horror writing at Bad Hand Books https://badhandbooks.com/
The Inconsolables by Michael Wehunt
- ASIN : B0C685VC32
- Publisher : Bad Hand Books, LLC (20 Jun. 2023)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 294 pages
In his first collection, Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt introduced the world to his singular voice–a poetic, resonant force of darkness and unique terrors. He returns with The Inconsolables, a chilling selection of stories sure to brighten this star of literary horror.
Inside, meet masterfully rendered characters who grapple with desires as powerful and personal as the monsters that stalk them from the edges of perception.
A man revisits a childhood game of pretend in “Vampire Fiction.”
A found-footage collaboration turns nightmarish in “The Pine Arch Collection,” which links to “October Film Haunt: Under the House” from Greener Pastures.
In “An Ending (Ascent),” Wehunt steps beyond horror in a devastating near-future elegy for living and dying in a changing world.
Readers have waited for years to discover which cracks between the everyday and the extraordinary Wehunt would explore next. His latest collection offers ten resounding, haunting, terrifying answers.
The Inconsolables is fully illustrated by acclaimed artist Trevor Henderson.
Michael Botur was the first NZ winner of the Australasian Horror Writers Association Robert N Stephenson Short Story & Flash Fiction Competition. https://nzshortstories.com/ Botur is crowdfunding for his second horror collection and would really appreciate your donations https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/lets-raise-dollar2500-to-launch-the-best-horror.