We're happy to help Meerkat Press support the release of their latest title The Measure of Sorrow by participating in their blog tour. And if you're at all into winning free stuff, they're running a giveaway where you can potentially win a $50 book shopping spree.
For this leg of the blog tour, J. AShley Smith is putting his new collection,
The Measure of Sorrow, to the test.
Set up Page 69 for us:
This is a bit of a mean extract to share. It comes in near the end of the novelette The Family Madness, about two kids, Leo and Cam, who go to live with their eccentric uncle after their mentally ill mother is taken away. Uncle Nathan disappears and the children find out his home is not the haven from insanity they had hoped... The extract comes at the end of a scene where they try to recreate a favourite meal in remembrance of their mother, only to have it come out all wrong. The return of the storm is the herald of an unseen and terrible threat, against which they are, apparently, entirely defenceless. (I said it was mean.)
Tell us what the story is about:
The Family Madness is about the bond between siblings abandoned by the adult world. It's also about how children are hardened and can be broken by adult responsibility thrust on them too young; the responsibility of caregiver, for example. The children may be alone, they may be powerless against the horrific, ancient thing in the darkness outside, but they still have agency; they can still build an island of meaning, however small, to shield them from the cold vastness of the universe beyond their uncle's house. This theme—of the need to create your own meaning in a universe that at best doesn't care and at worst wishes you harm—is one that comes up again and again, in different forms, throughout the collection.
Family itself is another obsession shared by many of the stories. The painful complexity of parent-child relationships, the way children connect with one another, the kindness, the cruelty. The impacts on a person, on a family, when someone leaves, or is lost. The way friends and lovers may connect, perhaps without realising, over shared absences, shared anguish. There is something so foundational, almost primal, about our relationships with our parents, our relationships with our children. Even without the justifications of psychology, without invoking this or that complex, it's plain how seismic the impact these relationships—or their lack—have on our lives and the lives of those around us. Characters throughout the collection are struggling with ruptures in their most fundamental connections—death of a parent, death of a partner, separation, abandonment, grief—doing what they can to hold their lives together. All too often, their attempts to fix what's broken do more harm than healing.
Do you think this page gives the reader an accurate sense of what the collection is about?
The Measure of Sorrow is a collection of horror stories; however quietly, obliquely or unsettlingly that horror may be evoked. Whether it's the writhing secret at the heart of a black reef, or the devouring urges of a forest regrowing after bush fire. Whether the pervasive seep of dark water that envelops the home of a mother-to-be, or the nameless melancholy that descends on a suburban community. The spread of an eldritch drug that darkens a once-vibrant party scene. The presence in the derelict barn that invites you to wallow—forever—in your most private shame. Or, as here, the featureless cosmic terror invoked by the madness of your uncle and his unusual 'instrument'. This extract, though random, somehow strikes to the very heart of the collection—and that heart is dark indeed.
Page 69 from The Measure of Sorrow:
...remember the bad times. Broken glass. Lentils. And the constant, unwavering vigilance.
Grim silence had descended over the kitchen. Leo and Cam leaned over their plates, ice cream pooling, pancakes untouched. The room was heavy with the memory of Cassandra, her presence, her absence. From outside, beyond the wood, thunder rolled, deep and long and filled with menace. Leo swallowed.
He took their plates to the sink, caught his reflection in the dark window. With the lights on, he could see nothing beyond the glass. Only the room behind him, Cam at the breakfast bar, and himself in the foreground, looking anxious and tired. He could see nothing outside. But anything outside could see them—could see everything.
Thunder rumbled again, closer this time. Leo’s reflection in the window was splintered by a blue-white crack of lightning.
“Turn off the light,” he said to Cam, his voice a croak. “We need to turn off all the lights.”
“Why—” Cam started, but Leo cut her off.
“Just turn off the lights!”
She hopped down from the stool and over to the switch. Leo ran into the corridor, flicking off lights as he passed. Cam called from the darkness behind him. “Leo? What is it? Don’t leave me alone!”
He felt his way back toward her. Even before his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, her hand found his. Lightning burst again like a camera flash, illuminating the breakfast bar, the stools, the dining table and chairs. Leo pulled her from the room.
“What, Leo? What is it?”
Leo’s throat was so constricted he could barely speak. “It’s coming.”
“What, Leo? What’s coming?”
Fumbling along the wall with his hand, he tugged her along the corridor, past the workshop, toward the bedroom. He almost fell through the open door, dragging Cam after him. The curtains were open, as they had left them, and the room was lit brief and stark by another flash of lightning. A shadow passed before the window.
Without a word they both dived to the floor, crawled beneath the bed. Side by side, they squeezed together as far under as they could fit, hidden but for the glint of their black eyes peeping from the shadows. It was dusty under the bed, and airless. The little gasps of Cam’s breath were hot against Leo’s face. His heart beat so hard...
Collection | Dark Fantasy | Horror
Shirley Jackson Award-winning author J. Ashley-Smith’s first collection, The Measure of Sorrow, draws together ten new and previously acclaimed stories of dark speculative fiction. In these pages a black reef holds the secret to an interminable coastal limbo; a father struggles to relate to his estranged children in a post-bushfire wilderness; an artist records her last days in conversation with her unborn child; a brother and sister are abandoned to the manifestations of their uncle’s insanity; a suburban neighborhood succumbs to an indescribable malaise; teenage ravers fall in with an eldritch crowd; a sensitive New Age guy commits a terminal act of passive-aggression; a plane crash opens the door to the Garden of Eden; the new boy in the village falls victim to a fatal ruse; and a husband's unexpressed grief is embodied in the shadows of a crumbling country barn. Intelligent and emotionally complex, the stories in The Measure of Sorrow elude easy classification, lifting the veil on the wonder and horror of a world just out of true.
J. Ashley Smith is a British–Australian author of dark fiction and co-host of the Let The Cat In podcast. His first book, The Attic Tragedy, won the Shirley Jackson Award. Other stories have won the Ditmar Australian Shadows and Aurealis awards. He lives with his wife and two sons beneath an ominous mountain in the suburbs of North Canberra, gathering moth dust, tormented by the desolation of telegraph wires. You can find him at spooktapes.net, performing amazing experiments in electronic communication with the dead. His debut collection, The Measure of Sorrow, is out now from Meerkat Press.