FEW WRITERS WEAPONIZE a reader’s trust like Brian Evenson. To engage with his brand of “epistemological horror,” as he has described it, is to feel the disturbing pleasure of finding yourself stranded — in worlds less stable, minds less bearable, and uncertainties less resolvable than you’ve been led to expect. His books have a way of bothering you long after you’ve put them down, and a way of making most other fiction seem remarkably safe.
Evenson’s newest collection of short stories, Song for the Unraveling of the World, once again drops readers into a series of unpredictable realities, written in a deadpan style which renders even familiar genres sparser and stranger. In “Born Stillborn,” a patient’s therapist (or is it the therapist’s twin?) begins making mysterious visits in the middle of the night. In “Line of Sight,” a film director senses something imperceptibly wrong with his latest movie. My favorite of the collection, “The Second Door,” defamiliarizes a standard sci-fi setting — a space station is described from the point of view of an orphan who only has his older sister for guidance. He begins to distrust her when the sound of clattering metal replaces her voice. Taken together, the stories probe the tension between unreliable narrators and an unreliable world, amplifying our own uneasiness about what we may or may not know.
Evenson is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and three O. Henry Prizes. His novel Last Days (2009) won the American Library Association’s award for Best Horror Novel, and his novel The Open Curtain (2006) was a finalist for an Edgar Award and an International Horror Guild Award. Over email, he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about environmental collapse, the work of Lydia Davis, and the advantages of the novella form.