The second story in Lynda E. Rucker's new collection, like the first, shows that there's plenty of life in several time-honoured horror tropes.
An American - a man with 'Something on his mind', as M.R. James put it - stays at a friends' cottage in rural Ireland. He's recovering from a mid-life crisis involving the loss of a good job and family disintegration. When a local warns him about a mysterious gate that lies somewhere near the cottage he is intrigued and gradually becomes obsessed with it. Is the gate real? What lies beyond it? Anecdotal evidence suggests nothing good will come of seeking the gate. But of course, he must. The story is presented as a series of journal entries.
Plots like this go back to the golden age of the British ghost story, in and around the 1900s. E.F. Benson, among many others, produced a number of notable examples of a gentleman 'roughing it' in the country and encountering paranormal phenomena. The difference is that here Rucker offers something that is both more intense and less definite than the ghost story plot all tied up with a bow. Instead of a plot-driven story 'Widdershins' focuses on a character who feels himself to be fated to encounter 'something a young Earth made wrong'. This nod to Blackwood and others gives 'Widdeshins' the feel of a classic weird tale yet it manages to be firmly of our time, complete with its reference to the way the 'Celtic Tiger died mid-leap'.
Another mini-review tomorrow!