Saturday Review: “Caught in the Teeth of Love” a review by Jim Coby in NCLR Online 2021
of Nathan Ballingrud’s Wounds: Six Stories from the Borders of Hell. (2019)
Over the summer, we’re sharing some reruns of older book reviews.
Nathan Ballingrud’s new novel is out (and a new trilogy is already in the works) and will be reviewed in our upcoming issue. Coby is once again reviewing Ballingrud’s work, so it will be interesting to see how this author and this reviewer change over time.
Last time Coby wrote about Ballingrud was in 2021. About his 2013 collection of short stories, Coby conveyed, “His prose, sparse and direct but evocative, suggests what might happen if Raymond Carver or Ann Beattie happened to discover a monster living in their basements and sought to record their experiences.” We already know we’re not in normal horror-story territory.
Coby delves into the new story collection with this insight: “A forte of Ballingrud’s that went largely unexplored in his first collection is that of world-building. With Wounds, Ballingrud has free reign to devise countless dark creatures that inhabit the borders of Hell, as well as much of the esoterica about this geography.” He calls the book “Compulsively readable, timely, and inventive,” and suggests “Wounds is a necessary addition to the library of anyone who has even an inkling of interest in horror.”
Coby calls out several of the stories, including “The Visible Filth” which was optioned into a movie by Annapurna Pictures in 2019 and “The Maw”, which Coby said, “is perhaps the best and most unassuming of the collection’s stories, and yet finds Ballingrud at his emotional and narratological finest.” Up-ending the folklore trope of one lover following another into the depths of hell, Ballingrud makes the missing love a dog and the searcher the middle-aged owner. Coby wrote, “it is in “The Maw” that we see the themes of loss and reconciliation portrayed more explicitly than in any other story.”
Ballingrud’s newest is a sci-fi novel, so it will be interesting how Coby charts the addition to Ballingrud’s growing oeuvre.