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Anthology review: When Things Get Dark edited by Ellen Datlow

Book review: When Things Get Dark edited by Ellen Datlow

Pre-Order When Things Get Dark

About Ellen: Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty-five years as fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and editor of Event Horizon and SCIFICTION. She currently acquires short fiction for She’s won multiple World Fantasy Awards, Locus Awards, Hugo Awards, Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards, and the 2012 Il Posto Nero Black Spot Award for Excellence as Best Foreign Editor. She lives in New York and co-hosts the monthly Fantastic Fiction Reading Series at KGB Bar. More information can be found at, on Facebook, and on twitter as @EllenDatlow.

Writers: Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Heuler, Elizabeth Hand, Benjamin Percy, John Langan, Paul Tremblay, Laird Barron, M. Rickert, Richard Kadrey, Seanan McGuire, Josh Malerman, Stephen Graham Jones, Genevieve Valentine, Carmen Maria Machado, Jeffrey Ford, Gemma Files, Kelly Link, Cassandra Khaw

Publication date: September 21th, 2021 Publisher: Titan Books Page count: 352 p (paperback). Cover art by Miblart Book Cover Design.

OVERVIEW: I have never read anything by Shirley Jackson, but I trust Ellen Datlow. She has excellent taste in short stories; I have discovered many gems in her anthologies. When Things Get Dark collects eighteen exclusive short stories written by today’s leading horror writers. Datlow asked them to write stories inspired by the essence of Jackson’s work - the exploration of the dark and evil that hides behind the peaceful exterior and normal life of small towns.

The stories exhibit a remarkable range of both ideas and tone. When Things Get Dark is a balanced collection of realistic and eerie, everyday and supernatural stories. Some stories are about meals and families (and family members turning on each other), others are about encounters with ghosts and the unexplainable. Above all, though, they are entertaining. Of course, there were some I did not like, but no anthology is perfect. That’s okay - I found more scary goodness in When Things Get Dark than I’d hoped.

My favorite story, For Sale by Owner by Elizabeth Hand, blends subtle humor, an imaginative take on the haunted house theme, and personal drama. It’s about three middle-aged ladies staying in a mysterious and beautiful house. I love Hand’s writing style, and with this story she has created believable characters and a delightfully creepy atmosphere.

Other stories I particularly enjoyed include Funeral Birds by M. Rickert - a gripping and unnerving tale of obsession and guilt. Kelly Link‘s Skinder’s Veil is simply amazing, but the less you know about it, the better. Richard Kadrey ‘s A Trip to Paris offers a memorable account of a killer preparing for an international trip, probably to Paris. Except there’s a strange mold patch on her wall with very familiar silhouettes in it.

I think each story in this collection will appeal to some readers. Only a few did not quite work for me. In the Deep Woods; The Light is Different There by Seanan McGuire has cool concepts, but ends before it really gets going. Quiet Dead Things by Cassandra Kane is confusing, and to be honest, I am not a fan of Kane’s writing style. Take Me, I Am Free by Joyce Carol Oates bored me, and Paul Tremblay’s The Party left me cold. 

CONCLUSION: Datlow’s selections offer a variety of voices, themes, and forms, and a balance between fresh and established voices. I recommend When Things Get Dark to readers interested in subtle horror. Ellen Datlow does not put out bad anthologies. That’s a fact.

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