Alright, first full disclosure. The author of "And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe," Gwendolyn Kiste, asked me to contribute a blurb to this collection. So let's classify this review as not entirely unbiased. I have enjoyed her stories since the first one I've read and my fandom of her work has only grown since. But I will plow ahead regardless because the simple fact is I would like you to buy this book and read it.
I say that because I figure if you're reading these words, what with all the innumerable blogs, e-zines, and pod casts to enjoy then we may share some interests. Perhaps a similar taste in the strange and macabre. Maybe a desire to read and appreciate works crafted with subtly, passion, and power. If you like to think and feel deeply about the weird quiet places of the world, then Gwendolyn Kiste's work is for you. It was written for you. You should read it.
The anthology includes fourteen of her best short stories. Most of them have been published in markets like "Nightmare," "Bracken," "Shimmer," and "Lamplight" but there are some excellent unpublished works here as well. I'd classify most of her work as horror but not in the sense that word usually conveys. There are very few monsters here, and mostly the terror here is of the white-knuckle existential dread variety. The stories describe hauntings, the ghostly relationships, connections, and drives that propell otherwise intact people into desperate actions. And always in these works, the void yawns below. There are dark blank spaces just to the other side of a distressingly permeable veil. Push a toe length beyond the curtain and invite a quick plunge into the unknowable abyss. The power of Kiste's fiction is that this abyss is not always described as such a horrible thing. The characters in my favorite Kiste story, "Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions," for example, seem almost relieved when the absence calls to them. They smile at their own vanishings, and cheerfully unmoor themselves to set sail into the black. The heroine of "The Red Apples Have Withered to Grey," is almost wistful about the strange tendency of the fruit of her family's orchard to cast women into deep slumbers. The title story of the collection revolves around the love for a film star murdered years before the narrator was even born. And yet, the lingering power of the actress pulls the narrator, and reader, through the chasm to a moment of obliteration.
These are odes to the abyss and the scariest thing about them is how welcome and kind that void sometimes appears.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“Something Borrowed, Something Blue”
“Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions”
“The Clawfoot Requiem”
“All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray”
“The Man in the Ambry”
“Find Me, Mommy”
“Audrey at Night”
“The Five-Day Summer Camp”
“Skin like Honey and Lace”
“By Now, I’ll Probably Be Gone”
“Through Earth and Sky”
“The Tower Princesses”
“And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe”
“The Lazarus Bride”