4* (our of 5) for “In Search Of”. It’s a weird format–a list of facts about your life that you didn’t know. But in telling you these things, Ludwigsen tells you who you are–a man who became a cop, who wasn’t everything he wanted to be but wasn’t nothing, who lost more than he thought and didn’t hold on to the woman who loved him the most. The kicker at the end makes it all worthwhile.
4* for “Endless Encore”. What looks like a simple ghost story becomes more with the addition of tangible details; you stop thinking of it as a story written on a page. The color of a dress, the time of day, the wood and stone and the dialogue of a jealous preteen, all blend together into a real moment.
5* for “The Speed of Dreams”. Once again, Ludwigsen presents you with one story and then kicks you in the teeth at the end with the other story he’s been telling all along. You’re watching it move along and take this twist and then you’re thinking, “No, no, don’t go that way…” but it does. I was left at the end wanting to tell her not to do it, but by the time we’re reading it, it’s too late.
2* to “Nora’s Thing”. It’s just an idea, and one I’ve seen before. I liked the story in the beginning; the presentation of the weird and the thoughtless cruelty of children pulling a prank but realizing they’ve gone too far. Halfway through, it falls flat, and becomes not a story but the author just telling us what happened, with no more conflict or excitement.
5* for “Remembrance is Something Like a House”. Story told from the PoV of a house who knows a secret it has to tell, even if it means shambling from Ohio to Florida to tell it. Embodying the house in every little word, description, and memory, Ludwigsen delivers a delicate tale that is much more sad than creepy.
2* for Whit Carlton’s Trespasser”. It could have been so much more. The setup and characters–Whit and the sheriff–were interesting and the oddity of the clown in the woods could have made for a fabulous story, but then there was nothing. The weird element felt tacked on for the sake of weird, with nothing to support it.
4* for “We Were Wonder Scouts”. A nice take on the Boy Scouts, made more accessible for fantasists. In certain moments it did feel as if the wonder was clear to the author but he lacked the execution to share it properly. That might have been because this wasn’t the most original story, and so the take itself wasn’t the wonder I hoped for. Solid, though. Nothing bad about it.
4* for “Singularity Knocks”. The twist at the end makes it something more than just another singularity story.
5* for “A Chamber To Be Haunted”. Ludwigsen is at his best when he gives himself room to stretch out. This story is better thought out than some of his others, and he gotten back to the beautiful word choices from “Remembrance”. Loved the reference to semiotics.
5* for “She Shells”. Finally, a perfect flash story. It is complete, well-written, with an organic pace to the trickle of information and a satisfying resolution. Just enough weird to enjoy it without feeling it’s shoved in for the sake of being weird.
4* for “Prudenture to Dream”. A solid, good story. I think the child-like PoV distances the reader from the emotional impact, though, so we miss out on the importance of what’s actually happening in the story. It should be more moving than it is, but otherwise I like it.
3* for “Mom in the Misted Lands”. This needs to be read with a bunch of other stories that incorporate the author’s invented land of Thuria (which this collection doesn’t have). Alone, it’s just a quick look at a mad woman, and personally, I’m so tired of the trope of a woman who goes mad and abandons her child simply because her husband left for another woman.
5* for “The Ghost Factory”. One of the best, proving that Ludwigsen needs word space to shine. when he can expand his ideas and still have room for language, the stories are beautiful. Wish the whole collection was like this. Bonus points for understanding psychology, loneliness, and listening.
5* for “Burying the Hatchets”. Best of the shorter stories in the book. He doesn’t try to say too much, and though he talks about childhood again, he lets the narrator be an adult, so the grownup words make sense. It’s lit, not speculative, but it’s a complete story.
5* for “Universicle”. Ludwigsen repeats (again) both Thuria and Charlotte, who (like Pauline) are in multiple stories. Another story about madness, too. But I liked the bibliophile aspect, the seeping in of strange words and strange views, and that it’s long enough for his love of language to matter.
I have seen reviews proclaiming it “amazing”, and I was disappointed that I didn’t feel that way on every page, but it’s a very good collection of stories. It’s slightly weird, edging on literary, without a lot of fantastical elements. What is there gets repeated: more than one story with ghosts, more than one about madness, more than one about children. I don’t love that strong women are rare in Ludwigsen’s collection; here are broken women, jealous girls, confused and lost and suicidal. Dead girls appear several times. There’s one story with a respectable matriarch, and that’s all. The one about the great teacher starts by pointing out she was chased out of town. The one about the politician had her wounded and retreating to childhood memory. The love interests are crazy or hiding behind the protection of their husbands. The smart girl doesn’t get the boy and gives up on life completely.
There are stories I love. There are strings of beautiful language, well-turned phrases, and a shambling house I’ll never forget. The longer short stories are much better than the short-shorts, but the whole book is worth reading. There were moments where I was moved and impressed. That’s enough.