The horror genre is so intrinsically limited in scope that the past one hundred+ years of such stories have brought us to the point where the only way to be original is to instill new genre blood (romance, fantasy, etc.). All other stories have been written, or the interstices are so minimal as to be almost negligible. This means writers who want to till the same ground must bring their best chops to the table to ensure their oh so familiar material is at least sound in technique, and thus make the reading enjoyable at the surface level. I believe this is the best way to describe Jeffrey Ford’s 2017 The Twilight Pariah (Tor.com).
A haunted house story, The Twilight Pariah tells of a trio of friends on summer break from university. Maggie is studying archeology, and convinces the other two, Russell and Henry, to join her on a mini-venture to an abandoned mansion to dig through the outhouse pit in the hopes of finding some antiques that might earn them a little spending money. The digging needing to be done at night as the three are unsure who has property rights to the mansion, strange sounds accompany their late night excavations, culminating in an unbelievable, otherworldy find at the bottom of the pit. Wrapping and stuffing it into the trunk of Maggie’s car, the three head back to town, only for stranger things to start happening. People being murdered in their sleep as the trio seek answers to their find, the sleepy little Midwestern town will never be the same.*
Almost as traditional as horror can be, The Twilight Pariah follows through with the story one would expect after such an intro—shadowy demons, an unsettling mansion history, and a real and present danger that wants to kill. It has great pace—not frenetic, but just the type of rhythm that complements the type of story being told. To be fair, Ford does pull his punches in a few scenes where letting loose might have been the better option—a greater sense of urgency or fear the result. But overall, he sticks the formula.
In the end, The Twilight Pariah is a classic horror story set in contemporary times. The three main characters communicate with cell phones and use facebook (and smoke the occasional joint), but the heart of their plight still lies in the unearthing of strange, dark beings of centuries past and the terror they bring. Essences of Poe and Lovecraft lingering, fans of those writers will undoubtedly find something to love in Ford’s novella. Diehard fans of Ford’s work, however, may find the offering simple fare compared to the majority of his other fiction.
*If you can, avoid reading the backcover blurb. It gives away almost three-quarters of the plot, and with such stories, major plot reveals are about the only thing to hang your hat on.