Title: The Envious Nothing: A Collection of Literary Ruin
Author: Curtis M. Lawson
Release date: June 14th, 2022
Huge thanks to Curtis for sending me a digital ARC to check out!
Over the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of reading Curtis’ work and it feels like he’s found a groove. Between his short fiction and longer pieces, his descent into writing stories that are bleak and crusted around the edges has been great to see. Saying that – I’ve not had time to dive into his back catalog. So there’s a solid chance he’s always been bludgeoning readers this way.
But, when I look at the two most recent pieces I’ve read from him; ‘Black Heart Boys’ Choir’ and ‘Devil’s Night,’ I can see him shining, even when a story or a chapter has been painted over in black repeatedly.
Which brings me to his newest collection, ‘The Envious Nothing: A Collection of Literary Ruin.’ This, like many collections, is a mix of new to this release stories as well as previously published stories. Some of the previously published stories though, were only available through his Patreon, so if you are not a supporter, you’d still not have come across these stories in widely released anthologies.
What I liked: There is a lot of variety throughout this one, but one thing is clear – you’ll come away from each story or poem feeling despondent or as though you just survived an unexpected deluge of rain.
The collection opens with the sci-fi/horror mashup of ‘You and I and the Envious Nothing’ and doesn’t let up. The story itself begins with someone on a space station looking out through a window and realizing the earth has mysteriously vanished and things escalate quickly from there.
Bleak, heartbreaking and pulse-pounding.
But that could very well be the blurb that would adorn the front cover of this, signed off by a master author in the genre. The last two things I’ve read that made me feel similar to this collection were T.E. Grau’s collection ‘The Nameless Dark’ and Jo Quenell’s ‘The Mud Ballad.’
Throughout, the collection, Lawson continues to push the dark reaches of his imagination and the reader comes away the better for it.
Other highlights for me were the outstanding novella length ‘Beneath the Emerald Sky, (I won’t even discuss this one at all, instead I’ll let your mind wander based on that title) and the stunningly schizophrenic piece ‘The Green Man of Freetown.’ This one followed Charlie, released on parole who goes to the woods to try and find the truth behind the murder of his wife and son. Relentlessly sorrow-filled.
The absolute gem for me, was ‘Orphan.’ This one was so good, I did something I never do – I messaged Curtis to tell him just how amazing the story was. The main character is Ian, former leader of a punk band that grew huge and then dissolved who has been hired to come perform in a small town church. Of course this goes into super crazy-town territory, but at its core, Lawson infuses it with the sentiment of outsiders looking to find where they belong, where they fit. It is a great showcase for what Lawson does in his writing – making us look inside at how we react to the larger world as a whole.
What I didn’t like: As with any collection, some stories may not connect or work for the reader. I found each one to be phenomenal, but – I did need to step away from the collection a few times and let the stories digest, as this one is a constant source of darkness and despair.
Why you should buy this: Lawson has a vital voice in the dark fiction community. One that consistently pushes the imaginative boundaries and the places the stories visit, while keeping a sense of humanity firmly gripped in the themes throughout. He is never an easy read, often times making you feel repulsed or furious, but that is the point. He’s crafting stories with a visceral reaction, never once phoning in his performance. His books are tough and that’s what sets him apart from the ever-growing landscape of dark fiction collections. Lawson is an author I think we all need to experience, even just once, to help with your internal scale of how far down into the blackness you are willing to go.