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Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti
Cover Artist: Aeron Alfrey
Review by Mario Guslandi
Subterranean Press Limited Edition  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596062962
Date: 01 March 2010

Links: Subterranean Press / Show Official Info /

Originally published in 1985 by Silver Scarab Press Songs of a Dead Dreamer was the debut collection of Thomas Ligotti, an American horror writer become by now a cult author little known to the general public but highly esteemed in the golden ghetto of writers, editors and publishers belonging to the world of the genre small press. Now reprinted by Subterranean Press in a revised, definitive version, the collection, assembling eighteen tales plus two alleged "essays" on horror writing, represents a significant showcase of Ligotti’s atypical horror fiction.

A master of subtlety, Ligotti produces pieces of supernatural horror which has precious little in common with the clichés, the graphic nature and the narrative style of most contemporary dark fiction. His stories are often dream-like journeys into the horrors of the human mind and soul, featuring inner demons rather than external terrors, depicting life as a sequence of agonizing events and distressing nightmares, hinting, rather than describing facts and situations. A standing example is "Les Fleurs", an allusive, but obscure piece portraying a deranged man whose artistic contraptions seem to terrify his girlfriends (but we are kept in the dark as for the exact nature of these objects) .

On a similar note, the deliciously ambiguous "Dream of a Manikin" facing the mysteries of human psyche, features an alienist becoming the victim of a hoax by a fellow psychiatrist with whom he's trying to build a relationship (or is he just imagining things?)

The disturbing and daring "The Nyctalops Trilogy" depicts with fascinating complexity men able to control other people's body ("The Chymist"), mind ("Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes") or both ("Eye of the Lynx").

"Alice's Last Adventure" admirably describes the paranoia of a famous, aged author of children books, while the elegant "The Lost Art of Twilight" investigates the real nature of the undead. "Vistaren" is a surreal piece concerning a book which "is not about something, but actually is that something". The most traditional story is the excellent "The Frolic", the chilling report of a crime committed by a psychopathic child murderer, which gradually emerges during a normal conversation between the little girl's parents taking place in the cosiness of their living room.

Ligotti is a visionary, whose labyrinthine tales defy labels and count mainly for their atmospheres, the writer's musical prose, the hallucinated vision of a reality distorted as in dreams or under the influence of drugs. He is never easy to read, sometimes frustratingly obscure. I’m not ashamed to admit that I found some of his "stories" unbearably boring, some, by contrast, exceptionally beautiful ( e.g the lyric, exquisite "The Music of the Moon"), none were trivial or ordinary.

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