The stories in Howard’s debut collection blend raw emotions with surreal forays into the supernatural and metaphysical.
These stories encompass a host of topics, from the vagaries of memory to cycles of violence to the process of grieving. Plenty of their elements are harrowing enough on their own, including a man losing ground to dementia (“Scarecrows”) and a student shooting and killing his classmate (“Bandana”). But Howard opts to take many of these stories in a surreal direction: The murdered child in “Bandana,” for example, remains on Earth to act as his murderer’s adviser and “spirit guardian.” It adds an element of the absurd to the proceedings, but the spectral narrator’s relative detachment ends up making things even more horrific rather than less so. “Scarecrows” is structured so that the reader begins to understand things even as the ailing protagonist, Dixon, does, aided in part by notes he’s left himself in his more lucid moments. He’s trying to understand strange visions he’s been having of the past but also why he shouldn’t tell his wife, who’s become his caretaker. There’s a dreamlike quality to this story, along with several others—notably “Grandfather Vampire,” which has a Ray Bradbury–esque blend of pastoral and uncanny. The title character’s nickname was coined by a friend of the narrator’s, noting that he “looked like a vampire who’d stepped into the sunlight a million years ago and got bleached white as bone.” The narrator and his friend end up watching a series of movies about a reanimated boy who ages over the course of several films and turns out to have a connection to their lives.
Howard’s fiction follows an unexpected logic, but at its best it achieves a deep emotional resonance.