If you want refined horror, sometimes colored with sci-fi, that is also substantive on a deeply psychological and philosophical level, this collection of short stories is the bargain of your life. This is important stuff, writing I would call "literature" as well as "horror." It's difficult to pick favorites when every story is a gem, but I particularly recommend "Talking In the Dark," a masterpiece of middle-aged desperation, "I Can Hear the Dark," a free-fall into a loss of innocence, "Drop City," which is distinctly creepy and gorgeously written, and, for something mind-blowingly different and poignant, "Not From Around Here."
Etchison intimately knows and can exploit horror tropes, but the stories in this collection contain relatively little gore or gratuitous obscenities, relying more on mental anguish, emotional turmoil, and (mostly) implied violence. Sometimes, "The horror lies in that there is no horror." ("Black Sun"). Yet each story is uniquely, deeply disturbing, probing the origins of individual and collective guilt.
These stories are easy to read. They contain beautiful descriptions and clear, crisp prose. There is a message here, which is what makes each story so great. But Etchison's style is so subtle that you really need to be paying close attention to catch what he's trying to tell you. When you do, you are richly rewarded. These are stories to read over and over, each time finding a new shade of meaning, a new nugget to ponder.
Reading this collection made me realize that Etchison is so much more than a horror writer—which I think is almost a misnomer in his case. Though his stories have a timeless, contemporary quality, I really think Etchison is a voice of his Baby Boomer generation. The person you see as your savior isn't. The past seems so much more significant than the present. When the invincibility of youth proves to be a sham, and all your illusions go up in smoke, where do you go from there? Is redemption possible? All these themes and more are explored in ways that reflect these questions right back at the reader. Etchison speaks in the soft voice of the murderer in the confessional, fingers smeared with blood, yet outstretched for the blessing. Get a little closer—hear his revelations in "Red Dreams."