Ben Marcus assigned this story to me when I took a class on the short story with him while studying at Columbia. I read it all on the long subway ride from my apartment in Brooklyn uptown to campus. It is a uniquely terrifying and beautiful story, such that I audibly gasped on the 1 train when one of the bloodiest and horrifying incidents occurs (there are many). Evenson grew up a devout Mormon, and his stories and novels are filled with the grisly imagery and language of frontier America, and of the foundation of Mormonism. The situations are Biblical – there is blood sacrifice, patricide, incest – combined with the surreal sense that the house the two brothers inhabit will not let them out. Evenson’s books can be hard to find, but I urge you to please seek out his work.
Originally published in Contagion. Collected in O. Henry Award: Prize Stories, 1998 and Altmann’s Tongue, 2002, University of Nebraska Press
This is pretty real-world horror for Evenson, who often strays into more supernatural territory. People who’ve been around hospitals a bit might get a familiar tingle. Evenson is a master of unease. Read his whole collection A Collapse of Horses to see how he can use the most innocuous thing, the slightest speck, to open the door a crack to terror.
First published in Unsaid. Collected in A Collapse of Horses, Coffee House Press, 2016. Read online at The Center for Fiction here
The story begins: “The black square on the table is meant to represent Gahern’s estranged wife; it is presented as such at Gahern’s request. The gray square beside it stands in for the black square’s new husband, also presented as such at Gahern’s request. Though Hauser has offered him the full gamut of shapes and colors, Gahern insists upon remaining unrepresented. Nothing stands in for him.”
I can’t even begin to describe where it goes from there: it’s absurd and philosophical at the same time, a murder-mystery reduced to two-dimensional shapes. It both destroys and reaffirms any faith that you have in fiction’s ability to have purpose. I missed a train because I was so engrossed in this book, costing me over $80 to catch the next one. It was worth it.
First published in Post Road Magazine, F/W 2001. Collected in The Wavering Knife, University of Alabama Press, 2004. Can be read online here.