"After the People Lights Have Gone Off" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Dark House Press
Written by Stephen Graham Jones
2014, 326 pages, Fiction
Released on September 30th, 2014
The fifteen stories in Stephen Graham Jones latest collection, After the People Lights Have Gone Off, come from the place where everyday occurrences and supernatural horror meet. A combination of previously published material and new stories, the book comes in at over 300 pages and stands as a testament to the fact that Jones is not only one of the most dynamic and versatile novelists out there but also one of the most original and entertaining short story writers in the game.
After the People Lights Have Gone Off is what happens when you decide to bring together some of the best short stories from an author who turns the word prolific into an understatement and sees in how many directions he can take spookiness. Jones is known for jumping around, crisscrossing, and mixing genres successfully, but his body of work clearly shows horror holds a special place in his heart, and the narratives in this collection are a celebration of that. From classic elements like werewolves, vampires, and ghosts to unique ideas that take creepiness into new territory, these stories are packed with great writing and that elusive, disturbing feeling that all horror fans crave.
If you've read my reviews of collections before, you know I never offer synopses of all the stories, because finding out what treasures a book holds, especially one that's a passionately recommended read, is a pleasure best left to each reader. That being said, I'd like to comment on a few of my favorite stories here, with favorite being a strong word given the fact that this book contains no throwaway narratives.
The first standout is also the first story in the book, "Thirteen". In it, Jones takes his love of horror, slathers it with a classic feel via a drive-in, and then delivers equal doses of horror and nostalgia. When you see the beautiful layout of this tome, you'll see that nothing was left to chance, so it's not coincidence that the story follows a superb introduction by horror/thriller/western/weird fiction maestro Joe Lansdale, a man who's never been shy about his love for horror films and drive-in theaters.
"Welcome to the Reptile House" also stuck with me for a long time after turning the last page of the book. Jones is great at making archetypal elements seem fresh, and he does it here with vampires. The narrative has a gritty atmosphere that initially made me think of a creepy noir (the corpse tattooing helps), but then it turns into a vampire tale that somehow manages to make bloodsuckers exciting again.
"The Black Sleeve of Destiny" proves that Jones can make a clothing item both creepy and interesting. A mixture of mystery, theft, teenage angst, and a bloody finale makes this one a treat.
A sine qua non element of any great short story collection is one or more stories that make you wish really hard that the author would turn it into a full novel. While there are a few of those here, my favorite for the novel treatment is "The Dead Are Not". Simply put, this is about strange people showing up at funerals. However, the wealth of ideas and the very interesting theory at the core of the tale are enough to simultaneously satisfy in short form and make you want to learn more, to read more, to explore more the world of possibilities offered by the truth that's revealed to the main character. Mr. Jones, if you ever find the time...
Besides being the story that gives the collection its title, "After the People Lights Have Gone Off" is also one the best, and meatiest, in the book. A couple is forced to deal with the sad aftermath of an accident that left the woman in a wheelchair. Their life is not easy, but they make do in the same house where the accident happened. It starts out in a sad note, but slowly, and without letting go of that sadness, develops into a very creepy narrative. How creepy? Well, the woman quietly drags herself along the floor in the middle of the night until her legs bleed. Not enough? Maybe the strange marking appearing on the man's hip will do the trick. In any case, this one was so great it even brought to mind the great Horacio Quiroga horror classic The Feather Pillow.
I won't go into more stories, but know that from aliens to werewolves to a science fiction piece that becomes something else at the end, every narrative here is worth a read. Also, the book itself, the physical object, is something that deserves mentioning. Each story is preceded by an illustration and starts with a large font of what looks like crumpled paper; the name of the collection runs across the top of every page; and there's an explanation/history of each story at the end of the book that gives readers a glimpse into Jones' process, the history of each story, and even some of the author's fears. When all of that comes together, After the People Lights Have Gone Off comes across as a labor of love and a superb collection that deserves a space in the shelves of all horror fiction fans.