North American Lake Monsters is a collection of short horror stories, collected from author Nathan Ballingrud’s various previously published works.
The stories take us to vastly different scenarios, in which everyday people deal with differing supernatural phenomena.
The remarkable thing Nathan Ballingrud does here, through, is make the supernatural element seem so much less significant than what’s going on in the characters’ regular lives.
In the title story “North American Lake Monsters,” for example, a released convict named Grady finds a strange, luminescent dead monster by the lake. His hands and arms glow from touching it. Surrounding animals who feed on it tromp into the woods, glowing and spreading who knows what into nature. But all I can think of is Grady’s poor daughter and the life she will live, saddled with an alcoholic mother and narcissistic, emotionally abusive father.
Another offering, “The Good Husband,” is filled with dark elements. Suicide, decomposition, a ghost. But shining brightest is a husband, clinging desperately to a wife who has been emotionally gone for many years.
The book is beautifully written without seeming so in the moment.
There isn’t an onslaught of flowery language to amp up the literary prowess or jump scares to amp up the horror. Instead, his words work quietly in harmony, all integral and building toward the ultimate revelations.
Ballingrud’s collection is both spooky and unsettling. These aren’t stories in which I have to fear being alone or startling at unexpected creaks and groans in the house. Instead, these are stories which make me contemplative of the human condition.
It’s delicate and devastating and depressing … and sometimes hopeful.
North American Lake Monsters
By Nathan Ballingrud
Small Beer Press