Wednesday, February 25, 2009

REVIEW: Shadows Over New England

Shadows Over New England
By David Goudsward & Scott T. Goudsward, Foreword by Christopher Golden

The announcement of this book’s publication was a dream come true for your humble narrator. Finally, here is a hefty tome addressing a significant element of what drives my fascination with Maine and my need to create the Strange Maine Gazette and blog in the first place!

Within the pages of Shadows Over New England are places both real and fictitious which have been written into weird tales and horror movies over the last three centuries and more, with a few burial places of choice personalities sprinkled here and there for good measure. They are listed state after state, town after town, street after street, so that if you happen to be going to, say, Portland, and you want to take a little tour of places you fondly remember from reading the stories of Rick Hautala or Stephen King – look no further, this book will suggest a path for you (if you dare let it).

So, dear readers, on the one hand, this is a descriptive book of lists – placenames, haunted corners of the New England landscape, and so on. On the other hand, it is so much more. As Christopher Golden mentions in his foreword, “New England has always cast long shadows of inspiration over the hearts and imaginations of storytellers.” This phenomena is something that fascinates me. WHY, for heaven’s sake, am I so enamored of Maine? Why does New England breed such a peculiar taste in its literati for things that creep and spook and lay curses left and right across the blasted earth? Why is it so hard to pin down exactly what creates the creative juices that make us tick at such a different rhythm?

These are large questions, looming and wringing their hands, looking for answers that cannot be given unless by that quirk of autumn air that tickles your nose for the first time each year, or by the insistent rustling of leaves that strikes your ear in just such a way that you must turn to see who (or what) is following you, or by the way that the bare branches grab your eye as their silhouettes sway against the twilight sky. The answers lie under the mossy flagstones we find before an abandoned cellar hole, twisted in weeds and smelling of old earth. The solution is to give oneself up to the air, to the land, to the tales we spin about them, as writers have done throughout the history of New England.

Enter the brothers Goudsward and their marvelous book! What better way to wander through the real back roads of make-believe Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont? What better way to find out about a story you have yet to read, than to stumble across it fortuitously in this book, your finger falling onto the page as the book opens randomly, pinpointing your next destination? Or perhaps you are the type who really relishes a book of lists and the tidy thrill of checking items off, one by one. Either way, as a wanderer or an orderly traveler with itinerary in hand, this book is a terrific guide for the lover of weird fiction and New England’s own uncanny heritage. Both fictitious destinations and the real world inspirations for them are listed, which should please history buffs such as myself to no end.

The seventy-plus page chapter on Maine is by no means as exhaustive as it could be, which is probably a good thing – it would make a big fat book all by itself. The Goudswards have laid a feasting table out for us, crafted carefully to tantalize us into further exploration. The Stephen King end of the table is understandably impressive, a buffet in its own right. The Rick Hautala selections lead us on a merry chase (and gave me a list of stories and books to look for as I start to investigate his version of Maine).

Other tales that make up the crème de la crème of Maine weird fiction and film are here as well. For example, the first entry for our fair state is Altonville, where the eerie 1934 book The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck is set (a volume which I highly recommend). What transpires on the campus of the fictitious Maine State College of Surgery must be read to be believed. The ubiquitous seaside Collinsport, of television’s Dark Shadows fame, rears its head stylishly, as well as Schooner Bay, scene of the classic 1947 film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The list goes on and on, filled with names familiar and not so familiar. Even hardcore Maineacs such as myself will find plenty of unplundered material here.

Since Shadows Over New England emerged from its den in spring 2008 it has garnered substantial attention. It was nominated for a prestigious Stoker Award in the category of Superior Achievement in Nonfiction, and is on the short list for the upcoming Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards in the category of Best Book.

Voting for the Rondo Awards is open to the public, and can be done by visiting to participate. Online voting will continue through Saturday, March 22, 2009, with winners being announced Sunday evening, March 23. Voting is done via email, and you can vote for as many categories as you have opinions in.

To purchase this excellent book should be quite easy, provided they haven't sold out the first edition, as it is available from the publisher, or through, Powells Books, Barnes & Noble and other fine bookstores near you!

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