Simon Strantzas’ new collection, “Cold to the Touch,” provides a perfect sampler of the author’s ongoing exploration of the weird tale. Strantzas puts a Canadian spin on things — not so much in terms of pop culture references as in his predilection for cold weather climates, bleak cityscapes, and haunted rural locales.
Set against these various backgrounds, Strantzas writes about the outsider in all its shapes and forms — be they physiological, social, or psychical. His work shines a light on the things that do not belong, the things that frighten us by the way they refuse to conform to normalcy and reality as we know them. The way people get along, or don’t get along, and how they interact with their environment — and the way the environment interacts with them.
“Under the Overpass” serves as a particularly fitting opening to this collection of stories: a story of the sometimes painful growth spurts, both emotional and physical, of adolescence.
In “The Other Village,” two women joined by a rocky friendship travel together to an usual island whose strangeness is disturbingly complimented by the chilly attitudes of the two protagonists.
In “Pinholes in Black Muslin,” a group of young people vacationing at a cabin in the woods find their very presence seems to be at odds with nature itself.
The sense of dread lurking just below the surface continues with “Poor Stephanie,” my favourite tale in the book. Strantzas manages to take a simple enough occurrence — a man picking up his niece — and turn it into something so disturbing that I wanted to run to the phone and call social services.
“Cold to the Touch” provides the perfect coda to this collection. The tale of a scientist’s trip to the far north of the Arctic to investigate strange climate fluctuations, which in turn leads to his discovery of a series of Stonehenge-like structures.
Strantzas uses his rich prose to imbue each of the thirteen stories in this collection with a malevolent intelligence that further cements his place as one of the best writers of the weird tale.
“Cold to the Touch” was published by Tartarus Press.