cover image A Collapse of Horses

A Collapse of Horses

Brian Evenson. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-1-56689-413-5

Admirers of Evenson (Windeye; Altmann’s Tongue) applaud the edge he maintains between the unexplained and the intimate. This latest collection continues to explore that line, and for how much is left obscured, an eerie emotional echo remains. In the title story, a man who has suffered a head injury perceives, among other surreal developments, a pile of listless horses. Unable to tell if they are dead or alive, the man is further disturbed by a fellow he sees filling the horses’ trough, as if he either hasn’t yet noticed the state of the horses or has gone mad with denial. In “BearHeart,” the strongest story, Lisa and Michael are expecting a baby. But after Lisa miscarries late in her pregnancy, a teddy bear equipped with a recording of what had been the baby’s heartbeat haunts the couple. “Black Bark” presents two old outlaws, riding stolen horses through unforgiving terrain, wondering which one will die first. Sometimes, however, how much Evenson withholds is less successful. In “The Dust,” the collection’s longest story, men with Viking-sounding names, like Grimur and Orvar, work in a kind of intergalactic outpost factory, isolated and at the mercy of their machinery. When things start to go very badly for the men, their lack of backstory or context detracts from the suspense rather than adding to it. Overall, though, Evenson’s journey along the boundaries of short fiction make for an eye-opening dissection of the form. (Feb.)