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.

A Vicious Variety of Verisimilitude

As it relates to my personal (and somewhat erratic) habits of writerly creativity, the first few weeks of June, 2020, have been a time when reality, and rightfully so, has been too tangible for the folly of fiction.  With pervasively observable pain too palpable for self-indulgent promotion, I found myself temporarily losing the taste for zany, self-indulgent make-‘em-ups.  I continue to accept this difficult and socially-sobering period for what it is:  an acute time to connect and listen.  

Even as I write this, I sense that un-artistic logic to be flawed, as fiction itself operates like a mobius strip with reality.  This particular, pivotal period calls for a vicious variety of verisimilitude.

#

I intentionally delayed promoting this, though it deserves both a mention and a cordial note of gratitude to Laird BarronIn an interview by Marshal Zeringue, posted June 1, 2020 on the Campaign For the American Reader site, Barron shared the following:  

I also recently finished The Skeleton Melodies by Clint Smith. This collection of horror and weird fiction stories nicely ups the game from his 2014 debut, Ghouljaw and Other Stories. A resident of the U.S., Smith nonetheless has a gift for language and story that reminds me of my favorite weird fiction authors across the pond, namely Conrad Williams, Frank Duffy, and Joel Lane. The Skeleton Melodies is good work in its own right, however I admit to a trace of nostalgia. Smith’s affable and easy tone changes on a dime; monsters lurk in the shadows. He writes pulp of a literary sensibility that I relished in 1980s anthologies by editors such as David Hartwell and Karl Edward Wagner.

Last week, Hippocampus Press afforded a preview of two cover-art proofs of The Skeleton Melodies from Dan Sauer Design; and true to Sauer’s reputable form, the proofs are phenomenal.

2020-06-04_17.23.38

Also, The Skeleton Melodies now has a dedicated Goodreads page with the collection’s description (I’m unaware of who penned the overview pictured above, but am grateful for it):

In 2014, Hippocampus Press published Clint Smith’s first short story collection, Ghouljaw and Other Stories. Now, Smith has assembled his second story collection, and it features all the virtues of his first book while adding new touches that will broaden his readership.

The Skeleton Melodies features such stories as “Lisa’s Pieces,” a grisly tale of cruelty and murder; “Fiending Apophenia,” in which a schoolteacher reflects poignantly on his past derelictions; “The Fall of Tomlinson Hall,” wherein Smith draws upon his own expertise in the culinary arts to fashion a story of cannibalistic terror; and “The Rive,” a highly timely post-apocalyptic account of the horrors that inequities in health care can foster.

Other stories treat of domestic strife leading to supernatural or psychological horror, such as “Animalhouse” or “The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein.” The volume culminates in the richly textured novella “Haunt Me Still,” one of the most subtle and powerful ghost stories in recent years.

If you’ve read an advanced copy, please visit the Goodreads page and share your thoughts.