When writing a book review, it's natural to gauge the value of a piece of work by how much it's enjoyed and likely to be enjoyed by others. After all, that's what books often are – escapism and entertainment.
However, a book can be successful even if the word "enjoyable" doesn't seem appropriate. It depends on the mission of the book's author (or, in this case, editor), and upon the needs of the target audience.
I don't know that R.J. Cavender put this collection together with the word "enjoyable" in mind. And I definitely don't know that potential readers should approach Horror Library Volume 4 looking for a slick, easily digestible bit of entertainment. Instead, I believe that words like "challenging" and "confrontational" are more fitting for what Cavender sought in this collection. If you're a potential reader and those concepts are inviting to you, then by all means – pick this one up today.
This book has claws, and it uses them to get under your skin and into your head. Stories like the ones Cavender has assembled can make you cast a more suspicious eye at the world around you; they'll have you looking for the cracks in reality, for the places where the mask slips aside and the monster beneath shows through.
They'll mess with your head, they will. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, then this is the book for you. The table of contents is packed with nearly 30 short, impactful tales, little bursts of surreality that throw the rules of both reality and genre fiction out the window. It begins right away with the introduction, "A Very Important Message for Those Planning to Travel to Costa Rica" written by Cavender and line editor Boyd Harris, which is a piece of fiction that challenges the very nature of fiction itself, while also serving as the perfect introduction to the book. From there, everything you know to be true is on shaky ground.
"Into the After" by Kurt Dinan looks at our very human need to put things right in the face of tragedy, to return as quickly as we can to solid and familiar ground. Dinan examines the lengths we'll travel to get our lives back on track, and ends the story with a sucker punch proving that we don't always know the people we love as well as we'd like to think.
In "Jammers," Bentley Little takes something as innocuous and every day as the traffic jam and spins it into something sinister. Greggard Penance's "Sporting the Waters of the Bermuda Triangle" reads like a fever dream, taking you along for the strangest fishing trip this side of The Twilight Zone, while Charles Colyott's "In the Red" gives a new, disturbing meaning to the term "creative juices."
Story after story, these authors (established names like Little, Tim Waggoner, and Brian Knight mixed in with relative newcomers like Penance and Jeff Cercone) take the normal and humdrum and transform it into things unfamiliar and extraordinary. In doing so, they in turn transform, at least within these pages, the humble horror story, removing it from the usual characters, slashers and creatures and giving us new nightmares to contemplate. It's a credit to Cavender and Cutting Block Press that they are willing to give new authors and new ideas a chance to shine.
So, "enjoyable?" Depends on your definition of the word. If what you're after is something new, something challenging, something like you've never read before, then you'll find plenty of that in these pages. If you're looking for the same old familiar "scares," well, you might want to move along.
Horror Library Volume 4 was released in trade paperback in 2010 by Cutting Block Press. The Kindle version was released January 2012.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.