As if many of the names don’t give it away (“The Punish”, “The Moans”, “The Blood Drip”), this is a particularly creepy short story collection. The collapse of horses of the title is the vision of a man with a possible brain injury. Four horses lying still in a field, possibly dead, possibly alive and another man at the water trough keeping his back to them. Imagining himself as that other man “unable to turn and look” the narrator considers this scene to be the “state of the whole world, with all of us on the verge of turning around and finding the dead behind us”. This is before he goes and (possibly) burns down the family home, possibly (and possibly not) killing his family.
It is not hard to see why Evenson chose this image as the title of this collection of horror stories. The terror in many of the stories comes from a type of existential angst. An inability of the narrator to make sense of a world that does not work the way they think it should, an unwillingness to turn around to see if the dead are in fact behind. Evenson, even in the space of some very short stories, effectively manages to put the reader into that confused space, seeing what the narrator sees and feeling what they feel.
A Collapse of Horses is a masterclass of the horror short story. Evenson uses many classic horror tropes – ghosts, incarceration, isolation, surgery, uncannily animated toys – so there are echoes in his work of classics like Poe, Kafka and more recently some of the short stories of China Mieville and Neil Gaiman and the American gothic of Welcome to Night Vale. But he fashions these ideas in his own unique way, painting weird scenes and planting visions that are hard to shake. So that many of these tales will likely have many readers leaving their lights on well after they have put the book down.
This review first appeared in Aurealis #98, Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine, www.aurealis.com.au.