Genres: Contemporary, Dark Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Occult & Supernatural, Psychological Horror, Weird Tales
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Jon Padgett's The Secret of Ventriloquism, named the Best Fiction Book of 2016 by Rue Morgue Magazine, heralds the arrival of a significant new literary talent. With themes reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, Thomas Ligotti, and Bruno Schulz, but with a strikingly unique vision, Padgett's work explores the mystery of human suffering, the agony of personal existence, and the ghastly means by which someone might achieve salvation from both. A bullied child seeks vengeance within a bed's hollow box spring. A lucid dreamer is haunted by an impossible house. A dummy reveals its own anatomy in 20 simple steps. A stuttering librarian holds the key to a mill town's unspeakable secrets. A commuter's worldview is shattered by two words printed on a cardboard sign. An aspiring ventriloquist spends a little too much time looking at himself in a mirror. And a presence speaks through them all.
The genre of fiction that I identify as weird tales has always appealed to me, though it’s hard to describe. There are also…flavors of weird tales, they’re not always the same, even though they may belong to the same genre. For instance, Thomas Ligotti may be described as an author of weird fiction. While I love his style, I often find his work too nihilistic for me. Laird Barron could be described as an author of weird fiction as well, though his style generally leans toward cosmic horror. Lastly, Robert Aickman is admired as an author of weird fiction, but I often find his stories to be rather…unsatisfying. Jon Padgett, however, satisfied ALL of my wants and needs as a reader of dark and weird fiction. These stories have a clear beginning and end, (though some continue on, in other stories), and are as utterly satisfying as short fiction can be. In fact, I’d call them brilliant. That’s right. BRILLIANT!
Starting with the appealing cover, (what horror fan could resist it?), and ending with Little Evie singing, in the story “Escape to the Mountain,” (which makes me shudder just thinking about it.) These amazing stories are beyond impressive, each and every one of them.
After “Origami Dreams” I will never look at folded paper in the same way again. I will never see the word “appendage” again and not think of Solomon Kroth and his endless research in the University Library. I will not pass the abandoned paper mills in nearby towns without thinking of those ugly “paper mill days” and the filth they spewed upon the town of Dunnstown. I will never again pass a swamp without thinking of the room in “Indoor Swamp”:
“Perhaps there is a room that contains a worn vintage tea party set with frilly dressed dolls, but one of those doll’s heads gradually rotates completely around, going from an expression of knowing, smiling perversion to an open-mouthed, silent O of horror and back again.”
I cannot possibly give this book a higher recommendation. As you read it, you may fell dizzy at times, or maybe even a little sick.
“You may begin to imagine you hear something that sounds like static or even the roar of an airliner. you may feel lightheaded like you are going to pass out. Ignore these feelings. They are normal.”
They are a trifle. YOU are a trifle.
If you want to fully understand the meanings of these things, you have to read this book. You MUST read this book. For me it started with the cover. It was the cover that made me BUY this book, rather than accept the free copy submitted for review to Horror After Dark. That’s right, I bought it. You should too. Seriously. Right. Now.
Usually this is where I say I was provided a free copy in exchange for honest feedback. However, (see above), I bought this book, and this is my honest opinion.
About Jon Padgett
Jon Padgett is a professional–though lapsed–ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter and cat. Padgett is a Senior Editor of Vastarien: a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti. He has work out or forthcoming in Pseudopod, Lovecraft eZine, Xnoybis, Antenna::Signals and For Mortal Things Unsung, an anthology reprinting the best Pseudopod stories.