This is a review of Shallow Creek, a collection of short stories centering around the titular town. It will not focus on each individual story, but rather the overall feel. The premise of the collection is simple. Storgy, the publisher, provided the authors with ideas and characters to use to develop the town. This is an interesting technique because it allows the authors to write their own stories, and bring their own voices, but it also helps maintain collection cohesion.
First, this collection of short horror stories presents a wide range of terrors and characters. The town itself has seen better days, as is often the case in such things. Once upon a time, it flourished, but now its downtown is dying, the Church is failing, and the whole place exists under a shadow. Many of the tales feature the same characters, but in different ways. For example, sometimes Krinkles the clown actually shows up and joins the story, and in others readers only encounter him as a face on a cereal box. This method adds a nice twist to the standard thematic collection.
Despite the disparate authors involved in the collection, there is a unified voice, or at least tone. Reading through it, I was never taken aback by shift in style. Each author manages to stay true to the overall tone of the tome while adding their own twist. I have read many short story collections, but seldom have I encountered one as thematically rich as this one.
Shallow Creek A Brief Review of a Few Stories
This review of Shallow Creek focuses on a couple stories rather than each individual story.
The first story I want to focus on is Pentameter by David Hartley. This is the story of Jud, a broken man. He is the lighthouse keeper, and only speaks and understand Pentameter. Initially, this focus on Jud’s speaking style seems like a gimmick, and it is something that could easily become grating. However, the story that emerges through poetic form is gruesome, creepy, and powerful. Could it have been told in a more traditional prose style? Of course, but the impact would have been lessened.
In addition to characterizing Jud with his mental tic, the pentameter immediately informs readers that they are in a weird story. Furthermore, it helps illustrate how disconnected from the world Jud is. As the story progresses, we see that he has a few worldly connections, a voice on a CB radio named Mike that feeds him instructions, and Sian, a teenager who seeks his friendship. At first, Sian doesn’t grasp the idea of using pentameter to communicate with Jud, but she quickly groks it and the two become fast friends. There is also the matter of Jud’s wife, who he talks to often but the reader doesn’t meet until the end of the tale.
All of these elements combine to create dread, which is what I want from a horror story. Tension builds as Mike gives Jud instructions to sabotage the carnival that has recently come to town. When each of these attempts fail, the stakes rise, and things become even tenser. The escalation with Mike mirrors how his relationship with Sian develops. One is destructive while the other has the potential to save him. The resolution of which is terrifying and inevitable.
The other story I want to mention is Backwards by Adrian J. Walker. This tells the story of the town Sheriff, another broken man. He has been investigating a murder, to no avail. As a result, he has earned the ire of the town, as well as lost faith in himself. He wishes to be anywhere but Shallow Creek, but that seems unlikely.
This story is different from Pentameter, and the other stories in this collection as it has a sci-fi bend to it. However, thematically, it keeps to the core of the collection. It tells the story of broken people in a broken town. Trauma is one of the strongest threads that holds this collection together, and Backwards has trauma in spades. The Sheriff has to reckon with his failures, and inability to change his situation. This is relatable to readers, and a hallmark of good stories, horror or otherwise. Also, it echoes Jud’s situation in Pentameter, though the resolutions are quite different.
All in all, this is a good collection of horror stories held together with strong thematic elements. It explores flawed characters and their struggle to survive in an inhospitable town. Some the horrors found in the creek are supernatural, while others are human. Many of the tales are dark bloody, and brutal, while others are more subtle and psychological. Each story in this collection is grounded in a hyper-real world that never feels fake or unbelievable, which might be its biggest strength. Horror works best when it feels possible and probably, and Shallow Creek delivers on that front.
Thank you for reading. If this collection sounds up your alley, get it ASAP. It’s well worth your time.