Nicholas Day broke entirely new ground with his first collection, NOW THAT WE’RE ALONE, and he’s back with a more mature collection of stories in, NOBODY GETS HURT AND OTHER LIES. The collection is a smattering of pulpy horror, bizzaro moments, and literary sensibilities. Day seeks to subvert expectations and then lean into expectations in order to elicit that ever elusive catharsis a reader desires after reading a short work.
Day has never been an easy writer to pin down to any genre or category other than horror, broadly speaking. When you can go from paranormal horror of small town America as in “The Plume and the Glow,”, to epic historical horror like in “A Storm Filled with Fire.” Clearly, there is a breadth of flexibility and genre knowledge that Day knows back to front and he uses it to its fullest capabilities. His choice of opening with a bizzare, horrifically compelling poem, much like his first collection , sets a tone that this is certainly not your usual cup of tea.
“The Plume and Glow” begins slow and follows a group of boys as they do what young rascals do in a small town…cause trouble. When they steal a death mask from a local antique shop, something goes horribly wrong. This was a story that stays with you, since it brings to mind those small acts of vandalism you may have done as a child.
Jumping to “A Storm Filled with Fire,” which lurches in a completely different directions with Egyptian werewolves and an epic revenge story that echos The Count of Monte Cristo, but with bestial brutality. We follow Anpu, who is betrayed by the Pharaoh and imprisoned forever, at least until archaeologists come digging… This was overall a strange inclusion in the collection, but notable for its scope and inversion of werewolf themes, since finding them among pyramids is disconcerting to a casual reader. It is still packed with Day’s signature style of intense emotional reactions and cathartic release.
I have to mention a few honorable mentions here, such as “Wake Up Daddy,” “Pollyanna,” and “Scavengers.” In the first short, we have a return of a creature that stole the show in his last collection, Chomp Chomp the man-eating river turtle. Day’s second story, featuring this endearingly murderous monster packs even more of a punch as a father attempts to deal with his life in conjunction to his child and wife. “Pollyanna” is insane, gross, and subversive. That’s all I got. “Scavengers” takes the coming home trope and decides to do virtually nothing with it. And while this is one of Day’s experimentations with more literary style prose and themes, it remains a rather poignant portrait of a family trying to deal with loss and the “what ifs.”
“Who Will Survive and What Will be Left of Them” is a return to Day’s favored style of reminiscent 80s and B movie flicks. Featuring video store clerks during the worst snowstorm of the season, they are drawn out of their workplace when a man shows up and dies as soon as he walks through their door. Combining young adult/teen angst and classic monster horror truly made this story and the tension is incredibly taunt from the get go.
The last story of this collection, “Elephants” is Day’s crowning glory. His afterword states that this is in part a tribute to Flannery O’Connor and her absurdism, which Day takes to new heights, but he lets everything go and enters entirely new realms of surrealism and bizzaro. As an avid fan of O’Connor I appreciated this final story greatly, even if the allusions to “A Good Man is Hard to Find” left me a little hollow by the end.
This second collection only drives Day’s stake deeper into the horror landscape, establishing him as a brilliant voice in short fiction. There are few writers working today that will regularly give such intimate glimpses of humanity in prose. If you aren’t reading him, then you need to rectify that immediately. This boy has got chops!