"A Soundless Dawn" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Sinister Grin Press
Written by Dustin LaValley
2017, 154 pages, Fiction
Released on March 1st, 2017
The place where literary fiction and horror meet is full of authors who tend to create narratives about cosmic horror or longer work with an elegant twist. Finding short, punchy, gritty, sexy short horror stories that also touch on the more stylish side of things is rare, and that’s precisely one of the things that makes Dustin LaValley’s A Soundless Dawn a special book.
A Soundless Dawn contains 41 tales that range from fully developed short stories to single-paragraph narratives that are sometimes just as complete as the longer stories and sometimes read more like a piece of something else, which doesn’t detract from their quality. LaValley has always dealt with a variety of themes, and his favorites make an appearance in this collection. Love, pain, murder, desire, sex, a sense of being lost, and a touch of noir atmosphere all add up to a great, varied collection.
If talking about all the stories in a regular collection is hard, then talking about every single story in this one is impossible. That being said, there are some highlights that deserve special attention. The first of those is “North Vermont and Lexington,” which kicks off in very familiar territory and then morphs into a unique look at youth, being on your own for the first time, and the possibilities presented by random encounters. This one is a perfect example of what LaValley is doing with these tales in the sense that he manages to be strange, touching, and somewhat unsettling while never allowing his work to fall under a single genre. And the way he accomplishes that is with superb writing, which is what makes this book a must-read:
I stand on the corner of North Vermont and Lexington, the sun falling between apartment buildings, casting shadows in alleyways and, within these last shimmering moments, I feel the beginnings of an apathetic fog shroud my body... an anxiousness, a hopelessness.
The second narrative that merits attention, and the crowning jewel in this collection, is “Sand Bucket.” Sometimes a story combines elements in a way that make it stick to a reader’s ribs and stay there, like a tumor, even weeks after said reader has moved on to other books. In the case of this one, a kid, an obsession, a great loss, and the context in which the recounting takes place (I’m not going to give that away here!) make it as memorable as anything else I’ve read this year. I was tempted to pull a quote from it, but I’d rather let readers go into it without a single word to remember so they can experience it the same way I did.
Another favorite is “Travelin’ Man,” which touches on the unknown in a unique way. A deceitfully simple plot leads to narrative that wraps around itself and closes with the kind of ending, and writing, that reminds me of the work of Joe Lansdale:
I know what you’re thinking, that this teenage, high school kid was the Travelin Man who had not come from another town but actually the future, which I guess would make him the Time Travelin Man, and I’m not goin to argue that, what I’m goin to do is not argue nor am I goin to agree. Because when you’ve seen and witnessed what I’ve seen and witnessed, there isn’t a thing that’s a sure thing in our world and those worlds that surround it.
The beauty of A Soundless Dawn comes from the way in weaves in and out of horror while also touching on mystery, literary fiction, a bit of erotica, and everything in between. LaValley mostly keeps it dark, but there are flashes of things like humor and philosophy. The result is a collection that leaves you satisfied on more than one level. Also, there are a variety of settings that range from a sofa to tiny hotel rooms to beaches to Chicago in 1893 and which serve to keep the reader guessing about what will be next. And asking that is a good thing because, in this collection, it appears the author decided to play with expectations to the point that some of the shorter pieces resemble literary lab experiments gone right, which is the case with the very meta “Awake and Dreaming”:
“Am I awake? Or am I dreaming I’m awake? Am I awake with the book resting on the bed beside me and the flashlight shining, illuminating the poster on the wall... or asleep and dreaming that I’m awake with the book resting on the bed beside me and the flashlight shining, illuminating the poster on the wall... or am I awake and dreaming of being asleep and dreaming that I’m awake with the book resting on the bed beside me and the flashlight shining, illuminating the poster on the wall?”
A Soundless Dawn is a book for lovers of horror, but also for those who like to witness what a talented author can accomplish when he flexes different muscles. In short, it is a collection for fans of good reading.