Friday, August 7, 2015

REVIEW: Ghosts in Amber by Jeffrey Thomas

Micropress Dim Shores is rapidly proving itself to be an integral component in what esteemed author Scott Nicolay has coined the ‘Weird Renaissance.’ With an eye for quality, and a particular focus on the heavy-hitters of contemporary Weird Fiction, editor Sam Cowan is releasing short-run, collectible chapbooks for true devotees of the genre. That being said, it was no surprise to learn that the inimitable Jeffrey Thomas would be penning the story for Dim Shores’ debut, offering up a little tale titled Ghosts in Amber.

First and foremost, I am in awe at how well-crafted this chapbook is. From the quality of the paper to the immaculate, hauntingly fitting illustrations by Serhiy Krykun, it is clear that Dim Shores is just as concerned with its presentation as it is with its content. If this release is any indication of what is to come, I see a very bright future for this venture.

The plot of Ghosts in Amber centers on a listless man trapped in an existence that, while resembling life, is truly empty at its core. He goes through the motions, retracing the same tedious steps each day, seemingly persisting merely to persist. Though we are offered a vivid picture of who this man is, we are never actually given a name for our protagonist - a decision I believe effectively serves to enhance his alienation from the world while simultaneously allowing us to identify more closely with him.

The beginning of the story feels intentionally claustrophobic, as if mimicking the restrictions the protagonist himself is feeling. Soon, however, the narrative and its character begin to branch out, gracing fingertips along shadowed walls of a time and place best left forgotten. 

“He wondered if he was dissatisfied with his apathy, or apathetic about his dissatisfaction.”

Despite being married, the man’s wife is little more than a roommate. They suffer a strained marriage endured purely out of habit, as if it would require too much energy to bring to an end. With no human intimacy to keep him grounded, the protagonist’s only companion is memory, which plays perhaps the most significant role in the story. Recollections of his childhood creep into his waking moments, urging him to seek respite from the nothingness of his existence. He is a man searching for a way to be alive again, relying on memory to bring him peace.

 “It was as though even sound had been stripped from this place…”

What follows is a fast descent into much darker territory. Thomas masterfully makes use of the protagonist’s introspective nature and leads him away from the tedium of his life and into an abandoned factory across the street from his apartment. The factory, which quickly becomes his obsession, reignites a sense child-like wonder in him. He finds a strange sort of pleasure in the place, though that pleasure is short-lived. As is true of much work in the realm of Weird Fiction, the horror of this piece subsists just out of sight, and yet is all the more potent for remaining there.

At its heart, Ghosts in Amber is a stark examination of a man unable to relinquish his past. It is a beautifully written story concerning the terror of existing without truly being alive. Thomas delivers a tale only he could have written, and fans of his will find his continual artistic prowess at work here.

Simply put, this is one of the most beautiful chapbooks I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and Sam Cowan has gone to great lengths to create a product worthy of being considered a collectible. Limited to a mere 100 copies, and with stock levels running low, I highly suggest getting a copy before they're gone.