Article originally posted here: http://www.brianbarrbooks.com/blog/mark-woods-fear-of-the-dark-nightmares-within-a-nightmare
Books can take you to a lot of territories and terrains, some unique, some familiar. It’s even better when a story takes you into many territories, all in one book.
I’ve slipped from a “dream within a dream” (Poe) in so many ways while reading Mark Woods’ Fear of the Dark.
Fear of the Dark can be described as a short story collection, but it’s more than that. In a creative way, Mark has taken a bunch of stories and combined them into a larger narrative, and that narrative belongs within another overarching story. These connected stories and how they’re told also have a cool way of revealing the personalities of the characters involved in the book.
Mark Woods starts the book with a boy looking in an old man’s attic. The boy finds a picture of the old man in his younger days with friends, young men in early adulthood. This photograph strikes curiosity in the boy, who asks the old man about these friends and who they were. The old man explains that he hasn’t seen these friends for many years, and goes on to tell a story that will explain why…
From here, we go into the central story of the book. The old man tells the boy about his last night hanging out with his friends, telling scary stories. Each friend shares a tale as a fun game, trying to out-scare each other, and each story proves to be better than the last.
Mark does a great job of building up the scary factor from story to story. Each story is good, but they get increasingly terrifying as the book moves along. It really seemed like he tried to organize the stories from the least to most horrifying, showing which of the friends were the better storytellers. As the friends tell stories, they also react in a convincing way to display whose stories were scarier, and which ones made them think in a deeper way (the first story had a strong philosophical element that really had the friends talking).
As I was reading the second story told by one of the friends, Let It Snow, I thought “oh, this is going to be my favorite story in the book!” Next thing I knew, the further I went into the book, the better the stories got, and I had to rethink my decision multiple times as far as which story was best. The last two stories told ended up winning, and out of the two, Beneath the Skin was definitely the one that creeped me out the most.
After the stories within the main narrative are told, it becomes clear why the old man’s circle of friends broke apart on a tragic night he can never forget.
Darkness was a strong theme in the book, obscurity and being unable to see your hidden enemies and dangers before it’s too late. The bigger theme of the book that ties in with darkness and stuck out to me, however, seemed to be curiosity. The book made me think about curiosity and how it can get people tangled in bigger puzzles and mysteries that are best left unsolved. The mystery of one story lead into another story, and revealed more terror and dread for the characters within Fear of the Dark. Love the way Mark tied these stories together. Great book, and quite a diverse yet short, fast-paced read.