Nightmare Yearnings, Eric Raglin’s first short story collection, works best when Raglin digs into the weird. Passages like, “This is the beginning of Mother’s Tongue, the language behind the veil of death. The climber—a cosmic infant. Me—the unborn about to crown” demonstrate Raglin’s considerable talent for describing the indescribable in a way that fills readers with both dread and awe.
In addition to being well written, the weirdness pairs nicely with Raglin’s penchant for political stories. In the sixteen included in this collection, Raglin addresses toxic masculinity, workers’ rights, homophobia, and school shootings, among other themes. The weirder elements add layers of nuance to the big ideas. In the case of “Under the Hoofs, Upon the Horns,” a bull-man hybrid creature adds to Raglin’s exploration of toxic masculinity.
The narrator is unquestionably toxic, but when his son transforms into a bull-man hybrid (distinct from a minotaur in the way the bull-man parts are ordered and ratioed), it reflexively questions the son’s role in our society. Does he become the bull-man because his father primed him for it, a toxic apotheosis? Or does he become the bull-man because he has broken free from his father? Is it possible for anyone to break free?
Raglin offers some of his own answers to questions like these as well as his inspirations at the end in a section of “Story Notes.” After reading similar notes in the back of Best American Short Stories every year, I have long wished that authors would put them at the end of their collections. Raglin also includes a list of content warnings in another section.
While Nightmare Yearnings is at its strongest while getting weird and engaging with third-rail controversies, the stories do not feel pedestrian. It might be the juxtaposition—in some stories, the monsters challenge our conception of the world. In others, the supernatural is just supernatural—but the less allegorical stories feel lighter than the others. They lack the impact of their more political siblings.
Thankfully, Nightmare Yearnings hits more often than it misses, which will not surprise anyone in the horror community. Raglin has built a name for himself by interviewing some of the most prominent writers in the genre—Victor LaValle, Nathan Ballingrund, and Hailey Piper, to name a few—on his podcast Cursed Morsels. Earlier this year, Raglin also edited the anthology ProleSCARYet: Tales of Horror and Class Warfare. Horror fiction is booming, and Raglin’s work is one of the many bright spots.
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|Pub Date: September 04, 2021||Page Count: 208pp||Age Range: 16 & Over|
|ISBN: 978-1-7369-5320-4||Publisher: Eric Raglin||List Price: $8.99|