After the People Lights, authored by Stephen Graham Jones, is a collection of fifteen short and scary stories. Normally, when I review a short story collection, I try to find a commonality between the stories. After all, publishers place specific stories in specific collections for reasons. At least, that’s what it seems like to me anyway.
Is there a common thread that runs between all these stories? I am not sure. I do know, however, that they are all entertaining and spooky. In these tales, Jones presents several visions of people on grief and pain. Sometimes that grief is for things that have happened to them, such as in the final story. In others, it’s due to the things they have done, or the things they left unsaid. This latter idea is clear in the story Uncle.
Aside from pain and grief, another common element to this stories is general creepiness. There are some truly disturbing moments in this collection along with some lovely language. And this, I think, it was really makes the prose in After the People Lights Have Gone Out sing. Jones not only presents us with vivid and gruesome images, but he cuts to the heart with his language. No, it’s not overly flowery or arcane. It is, however, clear, easy to understand, and true. The truth of his language compels the reader to keep reading, even when the events of the story are awful and you want to stop reading.
Jones seems to understand what makes people tick, especially in their weakest and most vulnerable states. His descriptions of emotional and physical places are sparse but effective. He paints a strong outline for readers, trusting them to fill it in. A worthy skill, and one that makes this a must read.
What do you think?