Five novella-vriations on Hirshberg’s usual themes of horror and hauntings (The Snowman’s Children, 2002).
Hirshberg writes more in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft than Poe, creating a sense of dread with an atmosphere of weirdness and foreboding rather than relating any events of actual horror. It’s an approach than can manage to raise a shiver or two, but you have to have some time on your hands, for the author is rarely in any rush to set his scenes. The smart-ass kid who is the central figure in “Struwwelpeter,” for example, seems to be leading us into a tale that’s basically concerned with his delusions—until it becomes clear by the end that the abandoned house at the center of his annual Halloween pranks may actually be haunted after all. Other pieces here are even more psychological, in a Henry James–ish kind of way: “Shipwreck Base” describes the eventual ruin of a guilt-racked young man who can’t get over his complicity in a young man’s accidental death, while the title story portrays a father obsessed with his two children who died years before. Hirshberg’s characters also suffer from the weight of history to an unusual degree: The teacher who suffers a breakdown while leading a field trip of schoolchildren through the death camps of Eastern Europe finds himself confronted with the memory of his part in the death of his grandfather (a camp survivor), while the pompous Montana college professor who asks his students to investigate the veracity of ghost sightings in a small western town begins to experience some weird phenomena himself.
Plodding and pretty lifeless for ghost stories, these tales suffer from glacial pacing, pale narration, and a largely uninvolving cast.