Night time is a peculiar thing. To some, it is a harbinger of fear and danger, waiting to prey upon our weaknesses and fallibilities. To others, it provides respite and freedom from the everyday grind, an opportunity to release one’s inner self. For me, it is both friend and foe, harbouring threats and opportunities in equal measure, but does so with the open arms solitude and independence.
The idea of ‘night’ is the focal concept of The Outcast Hours, the latest short story anthology collated by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin. In their introduction, the collators refer to ‘night’ as being “paradoxical: it is private but shared; beautiful but terrifying; soothing but scary.” It is perhaps therefore unsurprising that there is such great diversity among the anthology’s many entries. From gritty and terrifying one moment, to mesmerising and whimsical the next, the collection traverses all corners of the globe, as well as venturing into the otherworldly. Indeed, the stories collected here offer plenty of evidence to support that universal cultural concept that, no matter where in the world you may find yourself, when the sun goes down to end the day the strange but true come out to play.
“It always gave you a start, though, to run into a fellow traveler deep in the night, where you presumed you had the run of the world.”
The Outcast Hours contains several entries that utilise mankind’s fear of darkness and the unknown to serve their own haunting narratives. While Jesse Bullington’s sublime Above the Light demonstrates just why we have developed a healthy distrust of the night, Indrapramit Das’ equally suspenseful The Patron Saint of Night Puppers reminds us that our own imaginations are often just as untrustworthy. In fact, the concept of trust is one that runs heavily throughout the anthology. Daniel Polanski’s Swipe Left is an interesting modern take on the trope of ‘the hunter becoming the hunted’, Maha Khan Phillips’ Gatsby is a genuinely terrifying tale of misplaced trust with dire consequences, and Yukimi Ogawa’s slightly bizarre Welcome to the Haunted House centres around an outrageous abuse of trust that felt very much like a Tim Burton-esque conceptualisation of the mansion from Disney’s animated version of Beauty and the Beast.
I suppose I should make it clear that The Outcast Hours doesn’t consist solely of scary stories full of evil or malicious characters. Indeed, I found several entries to be particularly amusing and positively entertaining. S.L. Grey’s The Dental Gig, a hilarious imagining of the tooth fairy industry, felt like it would have fit perfectly within Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, while M. Suddein’s Midnight Marauders brought a fun sense of bizarre whimsy to proceedings.
Like a lot of anthologies, some of the entries were much less appealing and interesting than others. Indeed, several of the stories seemed out of place, despite the theme of the collection being somewhat broad and ambiguous. I won’t list them here by name since others may thoroughly enjoy them. However, I will say that they totalled around 25% of the book…and they left me feeling rather underwhelmed and unimpressed. On too many occasions I finished an entry with a sense of ‘Is that it? What was the point of that?’
So, The Outcast Hours is a gripping, but flawed, collection of stories. That is probably of little surprise. Perhaps what is surprising was how it made me consider what ‘night’ means to me and appreciate it for what I believe it is; a time for people to be who they really are and do what they want to.
– The Librarian
- ‘Ambulance Service’, by Sami Shah
- ‘Gatsby’, by Maha Khan Phillips
- ‘Above the Light’, by Jesse Bullington
- ‘Tilt’, by Karen Onojaife
- ‘The Dental Gig’, by S.L. Grey
Thanks to Solaris Books for an ARC