Something Abides After Such Horror: a Review of Daniel Mills’s Collection, AMONG THE LILIES

I initially became acquainted with Mills’s work back in 2014, when I picked up a copy of The Lord Came at Twilight (Dark Renaissance Books), a collection that, I might note, continues to garner much (and well-deserved) praise.  (Bonus:  each story in this volume is supplemented by an illustration by M. Wayne Miller.)  Not long after, I was privileged to have a story appear along with Mills in the inaugural installment of C.M. Muller’s annual anthology, Nightscript (Chthonic Matter, 2015); and it was with the tale therein, “Below the Falls,” that I grew piqued by the author’s storytelling strength.  Among the Lilies (Undertow Publications, 2021) is his latest fiction collection.

Cover art by Yves Tourigny

Using the term “channeling” when assessing Mills’s work, I intend it devoid of pejorative.  Daniel Mills writes without emulation, but his style taps into a medium of Kodachrome antiquity, conjuring an aesthetic of arresting sagacity.  

One can find a number of stories that are period pieces, of a sort — stories that, while paying reverence to traditions ossified by Hawthorne, Bronte, and Brockden Brown, operate as an enhancement to the forms of the Gothic and nineteenth-century supernatural horror.  Mills acknowledges this in sly blips, communicating to his audience, “We talked of music and literature and I admitted even my love of Poe and Hawthorne and to the escape I had found in romances of the darkest character” (“Lilies”).

Other tales, though, are robust in their modern mode.  I’d point to “The Lake” and (a dark little ditty with which I’m particularly enamored) “Dream Children”; I’ve been unable to cast light onto the surface of water at night without a stitch of icy unease since reading it.  The collection is capped off by the impressive novella, “The Account of David Stonehouse, Exile,” which originally appeared as a standalone volume published by Dim Shores in 2016.

Regardless of the era Mills places his readers, he conducts his literary tours with a professorial lack of pretension, revealing stories that are sharp and crisp — tales that hum with neon solemnity.

After all this time, I find Mills’s writing creatively nourishing, and I believe unacquainted readers will find his skills, as one of his characters puts it, “not inconsiderable.”  Conversely, to his steadfast friends:  those who know this, know.  I’ve stated it elsewhere, but it bears repeating:  Deft and unsettling, Daniel Mills’s Among the Lilies is a haunting enhancement of modern horror fiction — an electrically delicate collection of specters.

Stone the Crow: A Review of Gordon B. White’s ROOKFIELD

Within Rookfield’s novella-length dimensions (Trepidatio Publishing, October, 2021), Gordon B. White achieves a narratively tight tale, while simultaneously managing to flex the story’s scope into something much more significant.  I was privileged to read this in galley form, and the story — from its vivid surface illustrations to its upsetting subtext — continues to haunt me. 

Clearly in touch with its scale, in terms of both tale and “the confines” of Rookfield itself, White swiftly establishes tension by sending his protagonist, Cabot Howard, in pursuit of his young son, Porter, who’s mother has made the unsanctioned call to escort the boy to the titular town.  I might mention, too, that these aforementioned confines are also beholden to the zeitgeisty component of a pandemic.  

Howard is a difficult character, making his presence in the ostensibly inhospitable Rookfield even more claustrophobic.  “A tornado wouldn’t be so bad,” Howard muses at one point, before “briefly entertaining the possibility of a whirlwind wiping him and the rest of the town completely away”; White proceeds:  “Only one lingering suspicion kept [Howard] from fully embracing the fancy, though:  If Rookfield was the real world, what worse Oz might a funnel cloud take him to?”

As Howard begins interacting with the town’s inhabitants, White initiates some Hitchcockian tension spooled with a Cohen Brothers’ brand of dark humor.  (An indelible cast of characters comes in White’s presentation of mysterious, “plague-doctor children.”  I’m particularly fond of one of these Pall Mall-packing children who receives some extenuated and entertaining stage time.)

Yet, despite Howard’s (sympathetic) pretensions, much of the action is saturated in his progressive scene-by-scene quest for his son, and how these set-pieces alter his initially inflexible character; and alteration, as it happens, possesses uncanny implications in the province of Rookfield.

With Rookfield, Gordon B. White cleverly corkscrews narrative threads, culminating in a compelling, claustrophobic nest of a novella, its final wings flaps remaining with me these many months later, seething with unsettling insinuation.