Major props to Mike O’Driscoll at Ginger Nuts of Horror for his immersive and insightful review of The Skeleton Melodies. “At his best, his stories show us ordinary people trying and, more often than not, failing, to make sense of a fucked-up world,” writes O’Driscoll. “No matter how grotesque or unreal the situations in which they find themselves, nor how egregious their mistakes, these are men and women we can empathise with.”
It’s creatively unhealthy to covet the literary traits and fictive tricks of a fellow scribe. Right? (I’m, like, asking for a friend.) It’s my estimation that, as opposed to wholesale envy, there’s nothing wrong with my creative aspirations (I mean my friend’s aspirations) to emulate the stylistic proclivities on full display in Duffy’s latest collection, Distant Frequencies (Demain Publishing, 2020).
Among other crafty endeavors, Duffy is involved (in numerous creative capacities) with filmmaking (some of the lingo in the eerie, “Not Yet Players,” offers a tell-tale signal), and his proximity with the medium is reflected in his fiction. There’s a cinematic precision in his stories that eclipses the typical tale which strives for a “ready-made” transfer to the screen — narratives which are all veneer and of little substantive distinction. Instead, Duffy (and the effect possesses an effortless resonance) manufactures a brand of fiction wired-up with value and vividity.
I’ve said it elsewhere but it bears repeating: Duffy’s third collection of short stories, 2015’s Hungry Celluloid (Dark Minds Press), was an aesthetic inspiration. Four years later, what continues to fascinate me (and my aforementioned friend) is Duffy’s ability to bring such descriptive electricity to such narratively-tight exercises. There’s an inky dexterity to the nine stories in Distant Frequencies, demonstrating Duffy’s flexibility in a duality that is both literally “serious” and escapist in its capacity for outright horror.
There’s a deceptive breadth to Duffy’s stories that works to insulate readers as they proceed. To put that strange sentence another way, it is — from the writer’s purview — about a selfless proficiency in your craft (functional fluency, in other words); and, from the reader’s perspective, a concern of intrinsic trust that the experience will consequentially satisfying.
Less akin to outright repetition, there are piercing pinpoints — the perpetual presence of the Priest, the black vestments, the unsettling-sentient hillside church, the rotting sanctuaries — which puncture and secure the stories with gleaming stingers.
Notwithstanding the extremities of your taste, it’s implausible that you’ll suppress a shudder throughout passages in the more eloquently eerie and acutely gruesome stories: “A Greater Horror”; “Appearances”; “And When The Lights Came On”; and “Permanent Hunger.”
As I’ve said: Ostensibly effortlessly, Duffy employs descriptions that are familiar in particular prism, while possessing the effect of lingering — in this, it becomes difficult to not see things his way long after you’ve parted ways from his stories: His shadow games are now your shadows. “The villagers stood beneath a tree, the upper boughs displaying a dozen corpses on ropes … black tendrils caught on a breeze. The corpses blew back and forth, reanimated by the suddenly changing season.” Yeah — that’s yours now too. Let’s call it a contagion. Crafty, for sure — deftly adept, without doubt — but a contagion nonetheless.