In his striking debut collection, Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt shows why he is a powerful new voice in horror and literary weird fiction.
From the round-robin, found-footage nightmare of “October Film Haunt: Under the House” (selected for The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror) to the jazz-soaked “The Devil Under the Maison Blue” (selected for both The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror and Year’s Best Weird Fiction), these beautifully crafted, emotionally resonant stories speak of the unknown encroaching upon the familiar, the inscrutable power of grief and desire, and the thinness between all our layers. Where nature rubs against small towns, in mountains and woods and bedrooms, here is strangeness seen through a poet’s eye.
They say there are always greener pastures. These stories consider the cost of that promise.
Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt
This book hit all of my buttons, in the best way possible! Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt is a wonderful collection of short stories that creep their way out of the horror genre and into Southern Gothic and New Weird. Every single story creates and maintains its own sense of unease, while also building upon and blending into the overarching feeling that ties everything together, the visceral and oppressing wilderness.
The very first paragraph from the very first story sets the mood for the remainder of the book. The constant feel of ache and weariness contrasted against the savagery of the environment. From a technical standpoint, it’s amazing how Wehunt manages to construct sentences that are both simple, yet impactful. To go from a character holding a jug of milk, to feeling devoured by the unending vastness of night, Wehunt juxtaposes common day occurrences with a dread and terror that fit seamlessly in. You’re left with a feeling that at any moment, you could find yourself in that very position, that very place. Whether intended or not, Greener Pastures oozes Southern Gothic charm. From unstable characters, the undertone of rebellion and overbearing small-town religion, to the sublime, yet grotesque depictions of nature.
Though themes do seem to be threaded through each story, they are each standalones and different, all in varying degrees of weird. From love lost and its consequences, to a quartet of child stories that are interesting to make sense of as a collection of its own, to life in places better left untouched, each story confronts the inevitable differently, makes use of the environment in its own way. Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness, one of my favorites, has a mountain demanding its return. Greener Pastures, another favorite, a darkness that consumes and demands more.
Whenever it comes to a book of collections, readers are naturally wary; I sure am most of the time. Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt, however, is what short story collections should be. Every story accomplishes its goal of disturbing the reader, inducing horror and unease. Out of the eleven, there are only one or two that I personally didn’t enjoy as much as the others, and yet, they were still good. Definitely pick this up!
Quotes & Excerpts
I’ve come home to this nameless mountain pouring blood from its bowel.
– Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness
Eyes black as their feathers, as holes. I stand on the porch. A gallon milk jug sweats against my hand. The crows or ravens are quiet and there are only the bugs dying out in the fall. My arm begins to ache and the night opens its jaws, slow and cool.