Ellen Datlow is a master curator of fiction, and though she calls herself a “horror enthusiast,” I don’t think it’s a stretch to say she is also one of the guiding hands of the genre. Her Best Horror of the Year anthologies are a snapshot of current trends in horror, offering readers a sampling of new and established authors in one volume. Nightmares expands on those best-of collections and represents Datlow’s favorite short fiction from the years spanning 2005 to 2015.
Every story in the collection is exceptional. This surprised me. Usually, anthologies contain a tale or two that made me wonder how it made the cut, but not this one. There were a few stories that I’d read before and was delighted to read again. Sometimes, a story brought up personal terrors and was hard to read, but isn’t that what horror is supposed to do?
It took me several weeks to read all 24 stories because I had to think about what I’d just read. I spent a few nights staring at the ceiling trying to chase the afterimages out of my brain so I could sleep.
Here are the stories that kept me awake:
“Closet Dreams” by Lisa Tuttle left me with fear scrabbling at the inside of my ribcage. A survivor of an ordeal at the hands of a depraved child molester can’t let go of the past. Her abductor had forced her into a closet during the day so no one would hear her if she screamed for help. After her escape, and years of therapy, the dreams of the closet still haunt her. She tries to glean clues from her dreams – something that can give the police a means to find her captor – but all she can see is the dark, and the room beyond the crack under the door.
“Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” by Caitlín R. Kiernan made me read it twice. Twin sisters cruise across a landscape of blood, depravity and blind, obsessive love. They mark their map and memories by the bodies in their wake. To me, they may be escaping hell or hurtling toward it, or perhaps they’re already there.
The story that challenged me the most was “Omphalos” by Livia Llewellyn. It’s transgressive and brutal, pushing the boundaries of parental cruelty into a nightmare of a vacation. Their love is abusive and drives their daughter June into territory that only she can see on the map. Her father wants her to take him with her, but she alone knows the way to the center where chaos and darkness lies.
There are so many more. This is the best anthology I’ve read all year and a must-have for any horror fan’s bookshelf.