The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town by Gregory Miller (2011)
A radio station solicits story submissions from towns across Pennsylvania as part of a “small-town cultural preservation campaign”. In 2000 words or less, the submissions are to describe a specific event that characterizes the culture of their hometown. The stories received from a town called Uncanny Valley are a bit… different.
The Uncanny Valley is a collection of thirty-three short stories describing the events of a small town in America, all told from the first person point of view of the inhabitants, and they piece together an intriguing, charming, and yet unsettling place. I would describe them as horror stories go for the cute and creepy rather than all out terrifying. They’re on the tamer side of horror with ghosts stories and such, but it’s abundant with unusual deaths and unusual things that shouldn’t be living, so those basics are still covered.
The author masterfully captures the voice of characters from all walks of life: excited children telling secrets, musings from housewives, the wistful thoughts of old men–weaving together a collection that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Although the stories are 2,000 words or less, Miller manages to pack so much life and character in each one that their lengths just feel perfect.
My favourite pieces are “Don’t Tell!” (told from the point of view of a nine year old complete with misspellings) and “Best Kept Secret” (a submission from a jaded homemaker) as they both have a moving tenderness achieved through such strangeness. While this book intends to creep you out a little, at the heart of it, it’s about the daily dreams of Uncanny’s inhabitants and the magic they find in everyday life.
While the majority of the stories are strong and memorable, there were some I could go without. It may be subjective because my own taste in horror leans towards the visceral, but there were stories that were neither creepy nor moving enough for me. There’s a ghost story that felt like middle-grader-material without adding a worthwhile twist to the format, and scary faces on pumpkins just aren’t that scary. But the other stories are either creepy, poignant, or funny–and all full of soul, so I can easily overlook the ones that didn’t interest me so much.
My other nitpick with this ebook is that in this short anthology, it had over fifteen separate occurrences where words ran together. Maybe they add an authenticity to the stories as typewritten submissions in the paperback edition, but I found it distracting in the ebook.
Overall, The Uncanny Valley is a neat read. I recommended it if you’re looking for a quirky set of stories that are charming, creepy, and surprisingly touching. This is a strong collection, and I think Gregory Miller is an author to watch.
You might like this if you like…
Ghost stories; stories told from the point of view of a lot of people, including children; learning about an American small town that’s charming yet unsettling
The author seems to really dig the short stories format, and he has another slice-of-life short story collection called Scaring the Crows: 21 Tales for Noon or Midnight. Apparently Ray Bradbury mentored Miller with the stories on Scaring the Crows, and Piers Anthony reviewed that title on his newsletter, so that may also be worth a look.
Posted on July 31, 2011, in 4 stars, Dark fiction and Horror, Ebook Reviews, Fantasy, Frida Reviewed, Gregory Miller, Short Stories and Novellas, The Uncanny Valley and tagged creepy doll, ghostly chill, uncanny village. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.