>>Finally got around to it: June 2013
Afterward, when Father found her, and the moon had returned to its orbit, and the hill was empty, and everyone pretended that the city had been in the grip of some kind of temporary collective madness, Alia refused to talk about what happened, where Mother had gone. About Mother on the top of the hill, where she stood naked and laughing with her hands outstretched toward the moon’s surface. About how she was still laughing as it lowered itself toward the ground, as it pushed her to her knees, as she finally lay flat under its monstrous weight. How she quieted only when the moon landed, and the earth rang like a bell.
Shadows & Tall Trees is an annual journal of weird and dark fiction published by writer Michael Kelly. The Summer 2013 issue contains nine stories from a range of authors, each one exploring a more personalized response to typical horror genre tropes such as monstrous creations, ghosts, and death and loss in general.
In Gary Fry’s “New Wave”, the first story in the collection, a single father must address the possibility that his young son is presenting similar physical symptoms as his late schizophrenic wife. “A Cavern of Redbrick” by Richard Gavin is a ghost story expressed through a young boy’s eyes as he discovers the murderous truth about his grandfather’s extra-curricular activities. D. P. Watt’s “Laudate Dominum (for many voices)” is an unexpectedly disturbing tale of creation as a mad Mechanical Music Museum curator is caught harvesting human organs for the construction of a Frankenstein’s organ that emits human vocal sounds instead of base musical notes and tones.
Several of the more dominant themes make recurring appearances throughout the collection. Claire Massey’s “Casting Ammonites” and Ray Cluley’s “Whispers in the Mist” both deal with memories of love lost and/or forgotten, while Karin Tidbeck’s “Moonstruck” and Fry’s “New Wave” both deal with, in subtle and overt ways, issues of mental illness and fears therein.
The one non-fiction entry in the collection, V. H. Leslie’s “A Woman’s Place: Topography and Entrapment in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” stands out as an intriguing deconstructionist look at women and their literal and allegorical positions within the horror genre. It’s especially prescient given the strong focus on mothers, daughters, female lovers, and their impact, even in absence, in the stories “New Wave”, “Casting Ammonites”, “Whispers in the Mist”, Daniel Mills’ “The Other Boy”, and “Moonstruck”.
Speaking of “Moonstruck”, Tidbeck’s entry is the strongest in the collection for the quality of the writing as well as the depth of its ideas and imagery. It shares the same fearful tenor as “New Wave”: an astronomer mother grows obsessed with the moon as it appears in the afternoon sky and gradually descends, coming closer and closer into contact with the earth. This strange event, which even more strangely has no ramifications to the planet’s tides, happens alongside the mother’s twelve-year-old daughter Alia receiving her first period. The layers in this story are obvious, but nevertheless effective: Alia’s mother’s inability to accept her daughter’s entry into adolescence, and with it her own impending inessentiality; Alia bidding farewell to her childhood and learning how to cope with life apart from her mother; and as previously mentioned, similar to the first story in this collection, there are unavoidable cues leading one to assume some form of mental illness is constricting the mother’s rational behaviour, pushing her away from her daughter as she enters womanhood instead of drawing her nearer. The ending of this story, which I’ve quoted at the beginning of this review, is far and away my favourite piece of writing in the issue.
Not every tale in the collection captured my undivided attention; I struggled to find a foothold of interest with “Casting Ammonites” and the final story in the collection, “Widdershins”, by Lynda E. Rucker. That being said, my first Shadows & Tall Trees experience is brimming with ideas and authors not afraid to take a soft-focus approach to otherwise predictable genre conventions. As mentioned in the Editor’s Note in the beginning of the journal, Shadows & Tall Trees is currently in a state of flux, and the format will be undergoing a shift from Issue 6 onward. Whatever its upcoming state of being, this is most certainly a journal worth checking out.