Review of ‘When Things Get Dark’

Shirley Jackson is one of the best horror writers of the twentieth century. Her short story “The Lottery” not only earned its spot on high school syllabi across the U.S., but after its initial publication in The New Yorker, it was met with “the most mail the magazine had ever received in response to a work of fiction.” Aside from writing arguably the most famous short story ever, Jackson wrote six phenomenal novels, two of which inspired first-rate film/tv adaptations in the last five years: Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House series and the indie film We Have Always Lived in the Castle. In addition to her horror writing, Jackson supported her family with humorous articles about raising children.

Ellen Datlow is horror’s preeminent editor. Each year she helms The Best Horror of the Year Anthology along with other excellent anthologies. So I could not have been more excited when I heard that Datlow would be editing When Things Get Dark: Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson.

The two are the perfect match, albeit made in hell.

A Match Made in Hell

When Things Get Dark

When Things Get Dark
Ellen Datlow (Edited by), Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Heuler, Elizabeth Hand
Titan Books

Datlow does phenomenal work curating When Things Get Dark, picking stories that relate to Jackson’s material in unique ways. As Datlow phrases it, she “wanted for the contributors to distill the essence of Jackson’s work into their work, to reflect her sensibility.” So, for example, some stories—like my favorite in the collection, “For Sale by Owner” by Elizabeth Hand—reflect on Jackson’s examination of lonely New England women navigating things that may or may not be supernatural with ambiguous endings. Other stories in the collection, like “Funeral Birds” by M. Rickert, capture Jackson’s acerbic wit with lines like, “One of Lenore’s favorite things about funerals was the gathering.” While other entries in this anthology, such as “Tiptoe” by Laird Barron, are not like Jackson’s fiction but instead include characters inspired by Jackson, whose life was carefully mapped by biographer Ruth Franklin in A Haunted Life.

When Things Get Dark attracted an incredible range of well-known writers. From the horror side, Stephen Graham Jones, Gemma Files, Josh Malerman, and Cassandra Khaw contributed excellent entries. From the literary side, Joyce Carol Oates and Karen Heuler offered their interpretations. Other writers fall between horror and literature: Carmen Maria Machado, Benjamin Percy, and Kelly Link had offerings to honor Shirley Jackson. This inspiring range of writers showcases the influence Jackson had across the writing world.

Final Thoughts

What may be even more impressive is that When Things Get Dark does not have a single miss. Every story is exceptional, connecting in some way to the legendary Shirley Jackson. If you are already a fan of Jackson or Datlow, this is a must-read. If you are not already a fan, this is the book that will convert you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Product Details:

Pub Date: September 28, 2021Page Count: 352ppAge Range: 16 & Over
ISBN: 978-1-7890-9715-3Publisher: Titan BooksList Price: $24.95

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Ryan C. Bradley
Ryan C. Bradley

Ryan C. Bradley’s work has been featured in The Missouri Review, Dark Moon Digest, The Rumpus, and many other venues. He’s a regular contributor to Cyn’s Workshop and Wicked Horror. A writer, editor, and adjunct professor who loves horror movies, action figures, wrasslin, and pizza, he spends a quarter of his time writing and the other quarter training his dog to stop biting him.

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