Greetings from the Ether,
Nearly daily, I am blown away by the quality, diversity, and profusion of talent that is available for the consumption of horror readers. The work of John Langan is no exception, and his latest collection Sefira and Other Betrayals deserves to be promoted to the top of your TBR pile yesterday—but since it is only just available, today will have to suffice.
The title story “Sefira”—a novella that could easily carry its own weight as a standalone piece and would alone make this entire book worth the purchase—opens this collection with the words, “Lisa looked in the rearview mirror and saw that her eyes had turned black.” And just like that, I’m swept away, mesmerized by not only my own needs for answers, but by the clarity of the worlds Langan creates and breathes life into. No two stories are quite the same, and yet they are linked—not only by the common theme of “betrayal,” but also by the strength and surety of Langan’s writing.
There is nothing like the feeling of giving yourself over completely to an author who knows exactly where he is taking you. You yourself are not always quite sure where you are, though you know it looks familiar; it’s this familiarity that drives your need to know more, to finally understand. You’re in a world that is something like this one, but slightly different, and yet, you know you’ve been here before. Maybe you’ve seen hints of this place in a dream or almost—but not quite—hidden in the dark corners of your bedroom in the middle of the night. The juxtaposition of your understanding that although you’re in some place that is utterly new, you’ve also, somehow, been here before sends you hurtling forward through the narrative. You’re terrified to keep going, yet unable to turn back—you must know what it is this author wants to show you, yet you have the sneaking suspicion that you’ve known all along.
This is what it feels like to read each of these stories. Langan compels you forward with the sheer force and surety of his voice, promising, if not exactly comfort, at the very least, commiseration. Here is an author who understands, more than anything, the plight of the human condition. While his worlds are populated with demons and devils, spirits and monsters, aliens and alternate dimensions, there are human stories. These are worlds you can believe in because they resemble our own so acutely. These are not stories from far-off places, nor are these characters foreign: they are people like us, living in places very much like our own, experiencing their hurts and struggles and betrayals with such visceral force it takes your breath away. Despite the monsters, these are stories that we can relate to—and in some ways, that’s the most horrifying thing of all.
I think what really appeals to me about these stories is how seamlessly Langan weaves the fantastic with the mundane, the extraordinary with the domestic. These are stories about ordinary people experiencing every day heartache—making them all the more compelling because they could have happened to you or me, to our loved ones, our families and lovers. These are our stories, humanity’s stories of all the terrible ways we can damage one another, physically and emotionally. And while the complex emotional arcs alone are enough to propel the story, the demons and monsters and other oddities add layers of nuance and depth and richness to the storytelling, giving body to the human experiences of grief and betrayal and shame.
This exquisite collection is one that begs to be both devoured and savored. The stories provide a thrill that demands sleeping with the light on, lest whatever’s been hiding in the dark is free to roam. But they also gnaw at your heartstrings with agonizing relatability. Worse than the creeping dread is the terrible sensation of recognition: these are stories you know—they are yours—and yet they are also completely fresh and new. It is this blend of the familiar with the unimaginable that makes reading these stories such a terrible treat. Waiting for you between the pages of this book are painfully familiar scenarios—and nightmares you can’t even begin to fathom. Give in to the seduction these pages offer, but beware: betrayal lurks at every turn, and it will consume you.
First and foremost, she is passionately devoted to the craft of horror and weird fiction. Last year, she had two fiction publications: “Redemption” in Automata Review and “Birth” in the November issue of Unnerving Magazine—a special Stephen King themed issue. For three years, she was a contributing writer on the blog Dwarf + Giant, where she reviewed books and interviewed authors. Some of her favorites over there are: a review of Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, an interview with Paul Tremblay, and a contribution to a special Halloween series initiated by The Last Bookstore. Currently, she is the Creative Director and co-host of a dark fiction podcast called Ladies of the Fright (http://www.ladiesofthefright.com.) In a former life, she was the Editorial Assistant for IDEA Fitness Journal, where she gained real-world editorial experience and knowledge of the periodical publishing industry. She also researched and wrote the Buzz, Member Spotlight, and Product Showcase for IFJ, in addition to the occasional feature article.