An unnerving set of stories that offer modern updates on classic horror tales.
In his debut, Hale employs a device that’s common to short story collections: an overarching tale with a character that connects to subsequent plots. That character is D’shall, a thief of stories, who aims to infiltrate the titular library and escape with the legendary tales therein, though to what purpose remains unclear. His infiltration process is detailed in a short but stunningly eerie piece titled “How to Join the Library Beneath the Streets.” Writing in the second person, Hale explains the history of the library and how to join it, and the tale strikes a delicate balance between the phantasmagoric imagery of horror icons, such as H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker, and the relatively banal world of a local library, complete with a boring book club. The library is ruled by an ancient, leathery Librarian, who rules over a dark pit of enslaved writers, who type out the grand narratives of the world on machines that drain their blood. The library is the heart of Hale’s book, and so it’s a shame that he spends so little time exploring it. Instead, most of the collection is spent recounting the stories that D’shall finds there, which fail to capture the disturbing magic of the collection’s first pages. The high point of these is “More Full of Weeping,” in which a small child asks to go to the “rainbow wood,” and her parents do everything they can to stop her. The story is a strong exercise in suggestion, as the author successfully crafts a complex world without ever leaving the girl’s bedroom. But the rest of the pieces here fall flat by comparison. Hale is a proficient horror writer, and he evokes the family drama and graveyard atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe and the complex mythology and twisted body horror of Lovecraft by turns. But aside from this collection’s central conceit, he rarely synthesizes his influences into something truly unique.
A satisfactory compilation that will appeal to avid horror fans.