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“Things happen in thin places that can’t happen anywhere else, but they are never safe from getting lost between clay and mist. They are always in-between,” the Widow Clary says in the title story of Kay Chronister’s collection of short stories, Thin Places.
The collection does some really intriguing things with the Gothic horror genre. The stories examine what life is like on the edge of the mortal world and the spirit realm. All of the stories are set in places situated on the border between two worlds. There is a village, where the song that the women sing cannot be heard by any outsiders. There is a house where five women live, and they create children who cannot live. Three girls live in a small swamp town on the edge of the Hellmouth, riddled with demons; every night, the girls hunt the demons in the dark.
In the titular story, Thin Places, the Miss Augusta, the schoolteacher in the small town of Branaugh gets a new student. Lilianne Eisner is the young daughter of the new lighthouse keeper. The rumor in town is that there has never been a family to live in the lighthouse. As with any good teacher, Miss Augusta notes that something is wrong with her student. When she tries to discern what’s going on, Lilianne says “The thin places…I think I found one. I think I live inside one.”
Upon further investigation, Miss Augusta only finds more questions. The town itself is on the edge of the veil–there seems to be no contact with the world outside. There is a hazy, unmoored feeling to the town, in regard to what lies outside of it. Something bad happens to all of the lighthouse keepers, and Miss Augusta tries to save Lilianne and her family before it occurs again.
The Widow Clary explains to Miss Augusta: “We are always in a thin place. We have always lived in-between.” The darkness that the lighthouse keeps at bay is unclear, but it is also something that all of the townspeople are terrified of.
With subtle nods towards Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley, Thin Places is full of original, expertly-crafted stories that had me hooked the whole way through. There’s nothing that I love more than Gothic horror, and this is one of the finest collections that I’ve ever read. Thin Places is available this week from Undertow Publications.