Although I was reading horror during the 1980s, I kept mostly to novels and missed out on short fiction. Which is a bit of a shame, because it means I missed out on A. R. Morlan during her horror-writing heyday.
Luckily for Johnny-come-latelies like myself, Overlook Connection Press has put together a fine collection of Morlan’s short stories – some previously published, some new, and all with commentary by Morlan.
Morlan’s stories aren’t, for the most part, flashy horror tales. Their scares come from a quieter place and are more unsettling than anything else. Many of the stories find the horror that lies in mundane situations and ordinary people, which increases its effect – these situations could be taking place right next door.
What makes Smothered Dolls such an interesting collection is the variety of stories. “Need” is a straightforward horror tale; “Civic Duties” takes on capital punishment; “A Fine and Verdant Place” presents a possible afterlife for Ted Bundy; “Tattoo” explores how people can feel safe again after traumatic experiences; and the collection’s most disturbing stories, “Smothered Dolls, or The Girl Who Could Never Be Good” and “Powder” are tales of childhood emotional and sexual abuse. (These last two stories are particularly haunting because Morlan states in her afterwords that they are rooted directly in her own childhood experience.)
It’s not all horror, though. “No Heaven Will Not Ever Heaven Be” is a sweet, almost sentimental story of a painter and the cats he loves, “The German Lady” has a fairy tale quality, and “The Second Most Beautiful Woman in the World” pays tribute to painter Georgia O’Keefe.
Not every story works. A few rely too heavily on dialect and subsequently never connect, and one or two seem to be more sketches than stories. But overall the collection is a strong one and I’m intrigued to seek out Morlan’s two out-of-print novels, The Amulet and Dark Journey.
Overlook Connection Press has done its usual fine job. Smothered Dolls features an informative preface by Stefan Dziemianowicz, as well as the thoughtful afterwards by Morlan herself. It’s a good introduction to an author I otherwise would not have read.