In the foreword to this book, Ligotti writes a bit about weird fiction. He talks about how that type of fiction is about the unknown, and even describes the quintessential weird fiction story, which is one where a man reaches for his glasses in the dark, only to have someone place them into his hand. That’s the whole story, beginning, middle, and end, and while it’s certainly spooky (mostly due to the uncertainty on who — or what — placed the glasses into his hands), it doesn’t strike me as particularly weird, I guess because I think of weird fiction as including something unknown, but otherworldly in nature.
In this collection, the stories are a little bit of both, with the majority of the stories being about the otherworldly unknown. And like Lovecraft, the stories are mostly about evoking a feeling of dread. Ligotti succeeds at this with his imagery and atmosphere, but where Lovecraft kind of wrapped up his stories around a plot, Ligotti’s are more about suggesting the larger unknown around us. In some cases, I got lost among his words, enough so that when I got to the end of the story, I wasn’t really sure what had happened. Generally, people got lost in the unknown, either physically or mentally, but the details of many of the stories were lost on me. It’s like I had a sense of what happened, but by the time I turned to the next page, the rest of it was gone.
Honestly, the stories started to annoy me, because I got so lost. I can appreciate Ligotti’s skills at evoking emotion, but I needed more to carry me through the stories. Two of the stories — “The Tsalal” and “Mad Night of Atonement” — had some character development to keep me engaged, but otherwise I felt like they were just drawn-out ideas. Because of that, though, I really liked the 2- and 3-page vignettes that made up the end of the book, since the point of them was just to present the idea with the weirdness. They were short, sharp shocks, and easily read and understood.
I can see why Ligotti has his fans, but I’m not sure that I’m going to be one of them. While I can admire his writing skills, I can’t say much for the stories themselves, and unless I can find another collection of just vignettes, I doubt I’ll read any more of his work.