I love ghost stories, so by the title alone I was instantly drawn to this book. The stories, however, are not focused solely on apparitions and spooky old houses. The book does have its fair share, though. I think Paul Tremblay puts it best in his introduction: "Ian's stories are explorations of the cosmic, social, and paranormal what-ifs, of the terrible and wonderful awe of possibility. Yeah, that's this book in a nutshell.
The book is segmented in five parts, with a few stories in each: the vestibule, the library, the attic, the den, and the cellar. The stories don't use those rooms as their theme so much as reflect the exploration of Ian's imagination.
Things start off creepy as heck with "Aces," about a young man coping with his teen sister, Soelle, whose been kicked out of school. That doesn't sound so bad until you discover it's because one of her classmates died after Soelle gave her a malicious tarot reading that sent to panicking girl into the path of a bus--and it's not the first time Soelle's fascination with the paranormal has played part in someone's death or disappearance. The story carries that squabbling brother/sister tone perfectly and only amplifies it as Soelle starts to embrace the idea of being seen by everyone as a witch.
"Cabin D" had a great Stephen King kind of vibe when a man named Henry walks into a diner and orders everything on the menu. The waitress finds him mildly amusing at first, but his odd, fatalistic mood grinds on her. The story seems to take in one long, straining breath through the first half of the story, and then it switches to Henry's point of view and it's like that breath is being forced out for some great purpose, and it all has to do with an abandoned cabin where Henry has to go. This one may have been one of my favorites from the collection.
Another stand out is "The Dark and the Young," about a translator specializing in ancient texts, fresh out of college and desperate for work. She's setup with a prime gig, albeit with modest pay and odd accommodations. She winds up in a neighborhood almost in the middle of nowhere, working in what looks like an old glove factory on the outside, but is a secret underground installation housing one very dangerous piece of literature. Think Necronomicon with a chip on its shoulder. This story worked wonderfully for me, especially as I'd recently watched The Cabin in the Woods, and the whole secret underground installation motif was played to the hilt. Loved it.
I could prattle on about some of the stories that captivated me, like "Wood" and "The Cat" and a disturbing bit of flash fiction called "Hunger," but sufficed to say that this book will rank highly on my year-end favorites list. There are but a couple stories that fell flat, due to ending so abruptly as things were getting good, but the overall collection is just a great showing of Ian's evolution as an author. And to think he's just getting warmed up. If Ian wasn't already on my "authors to watch out for" list, this book would have cemented it.