Book Review: Prairie Gothic: An Anthology edited by Stacey Kondla

prairie gothic

Title: Prairie Gothic

Release date: November 20, 2020

Growing up in a very, very small town in the middle of nowhere in BC created one of the weirdest small townism that has stayed with me until this very day.

When I was young, we had three TV channels: CBC, BCTV and The Knowledge Network. One of my favorite shows was a CBC show called ‘On the Road Again,’ which was hosted by Wayne Rostad. It ran for 20 years, from 1987 until 2007 and was an early inspiration for The Mercer Report with Rick Mercer. Wayne would travel to the smallest towns and meet the people and participate in whatever it was that the town did for fun. During one such episode, Wayne travelled to New Denver. HOLY HELL! New Denver, I thought. Why that’s thirty minutes from Nakusp. And Nakusp is only thirty minutes from Burton and that means Wayne Rostad is only an HOUR from me! To this day, any mention of those small towns brings that same sense of wonderment. That shared moment of ‘you’ve been to the middle of nowhere to!’

So it was, that recently I became Facebook friend with Craid DiLouie. I’d recently read ‘The Children of Red Peak’ from Mr. DiLouie and was stunned that he was living in Calgary. We chatted a bit on messenger and then I saw him share the release details for ‘Prairie Gothic: An Anthology.’ Featuring stories centered around Alberta, I knew I needed to read this and if anything, discover new authors with Alberta links. I’ve become friends with Mike Thorn, so I was excited to see his name on the list, especially being a fan of his work.

I grabbed a Kindle copy and this group of stories was so well done, I ended up reading it in one sitting.

What I liked: Well, after such a long-winded intro, I better do this book justice! The book opens with a fantastic poem/lyrics by Jim Jackson and an introduction by Stacey Kondla. This did a great job of setting the tone for what was to follow. Within the mix of stories, the authors really highlighted various dark fiction plots/tropes and not a single story was a miss for me. I need to highlight that again. Typically in a collection from a single author or an anthology such as this, there will inevitably be one or two where you read it and go ‘yeah, that was alright but not for me.’ Not with this one.

Saying that, I do want to highlight the stories that really stuck out for me, starting with story number one. ‘Darling House’ by PJ Vernon was a truly phenomenal opener. This story was simple in delivery but wow did it pack a punch. Staying spoiler free – I just want to say, you’ll never look at candles the same way ever again.

‘Mini McDonagh Manor’ by Mike Thorn was pristine and showed why I love Mike’s writing so much. Following a woman who needs to confront things from the past, Mike does a really great job of encasing an entire ‘haunted house’ book in a dozen or so pages. Well done.

‘The Frostlings’ by Chris Marrs was truly creepy. This one was tough to peg down with the emotional response it gave me, but I think the word that keeps coming to the front of my mind is chaotic and claustrophobic. Loved it.

For me though, the one that I truly loved the most was from Stacey Kondla herself. ‘Don’t Count Your Chickens’ might have been the shortest story in the anthology, but for me it packed the biggest punches, both for unnerving energy and creep factor. The story, and I need to keep this brief to make sure I don’t ruin it for you, is about something outside, something in the night. God, that’s all I can share! I wish I could say more, but this story was A+ infinity. Stunning stuff!

What I didn’t like: As I said earlier, every story worked for me here, so I’m going to go in a different direction here. What I don’t like about this anthology is that I’M NOT SEEING IT MORE OFTEN! This thing is amazing and truly deserving of being showcased wide and far. I’m a bit annoyed myself that I already posted my top ten anthology/collection list, because truthfully this would easily be featured on there.

Why you should buy this: I just want to thank Craig for bringing this anthology to my attention. That’s all it can take to make a sale, sharing a book on a social media platform, so I’m grateful to him for that post. I don’t think this will appeal to only ‘Albertans’ or ‘Small Town Canadians.’ The fact is, every town is haunted, every place has a house you avoid, a street you don’t walk on after dark. I grew up in a town of less than 100 people and we had both. This will speak to every reader who loves dark fiction, but for those of us who’ve been to many of these locations, it may just amplify the creeps a tiny bit more.

This brought a number of new-to-me authors to my attention and in 2021 I’ll be looking to read more of their work, but for now, I have to say – this is one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read. And I’d really love it if you would read it as well.


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