John Langan’s Corpsemouth and Other Autobigraphies is a collection of short stories ranging from the weird to the horrific and on to the just plain odd. With both llengthier and briefer examples, this collection will likely chill.
“Kore” starts as a simple family history of halloween celebrations, down to changing as they moved from one house to another. The details of these traditions, cute haunted house adventures for children of friends, are given for one year followed by another until a description of a situation where this had changed utterly.
This is one of the shorter pieces in the collection, and combined with the overall quality it seems a food choice as the opener. The title relates, largely, to a type of ancient greek art and whole the themes do not directly connect to it there is an appropriateness given the materials that appear within. Children play an unusually strong role in this particular story, a thematic reflection of naivete and knowledge mistaken for one another.
“Corpsmouth” is a dark tale of loss, death, and change. The mystery of a death in the family, and the oddities of growing up, lead the protagonist of this piece into hearing an old legend featuring the title character. The story within the story is a bleak piece that nonetheless feels like a but of classic folklore ever so slightly modified, which in and of itself is an impressive task. The imagery is dirty and grimy, relatively modern conveniences pushing up against the long gone in a way that leaves a reader uncomfortable instead of amused or bewildered.
This is one of the longer stories in the collection, and the time,to breath adds much. In abhorred work the repeated elements would seem hammered into the reader rather than allowed to seep steadily into the story. Further there was a strong theme of family connected to the questions of loss and decay. This seems most likely to hit someone who has suffered a recent loss as perhaps it should. While family is an important theme in this piece the idea of hereditary guardianship is soundly rejected, though the idea is floated. Particualrly in a story that goes sp far as to mention the Arthurian such a moment is unusual, helping to mark both the strangeness and quality which catipulted this to title status.
A nice introduction by Sarah Langan helps to set the stage for these stories, and There is a nice publication hisyory in the back of the book, and an impressive series of notes follow on after all of the stories. These help open a door into John Langan’s process as a writer, at least in relation to the work in this volume.
Overall this collection includes a nice assortment of shorter pieces by a respected name in the genre. With everything from folk horror to John Langan started publishing in the early 2000s, and his work quickly became synonymous with horror. This collection, filled with strange and dark tales which feel familiar yet alien makes it all too easy to see why.
(Word Horde 2022)