Review: A Small Light and Other Stories by Sara Century

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A mysterious woman stalks a seaside town. An isolated couple inhabit a house full of tropical birds. A rowboat floats down a river toward a witch’s cave. Death wanders an unnamed city during the plague. Sara Century’s debut short story collection carries with it surreal visions inspired by pulp paperbacks, art house films, comic books of all flavors, and classic queer villains. A Small Light & Other Stories gathers tales that hinge on troubled characters with nothing left to lose encountering existential horrors, where everyday problems escalate into insurmountable monsters, and we find ourselves unable to escape dreams long since transformed into nightmares.

“Century’s fiction packs the potency of a nightmare that haunts the mind long after one has woken. She weaves dark poetry out of her character’s relationships and crafts imagery designed to unsettle and inspire awe in equal measure. These stories whisper in your ear in the dark of night, and you will find yourself welcoming their insidious omens with outstretched arms.” – Brendan Vidito (Pornography for the End of the World)

“Sara Century writes with subtle intensity and care. In a genre often extreme, alien, and operatic, her horror stories drop us into the small center of our familiar, vulnerable human core and send ripples spreading outward, enlarging gradually to create a total emotional effect. A Small Light is a book full of dark awakenings.” – Joe Koch (The Wingspan of Severed Hands, Convulsive)


“Every love story is a ghost story.” – David Foster Wallace

I could not stop thinking about this line from David Foster Wallace while reading the nine stories in Sara Century’s debut short story collection, A Small Light and Other Stories. Every single one of these stories exemplifies this quote. Each story is the interpersonal relationship between women, whether it be mother and daughter, sisters, or, as in most of these stories, girlfriends and wives. The ghosts float through all of these stories. Ghosts of loss. Ghosts of desire. Ghosts of hope. I cannot help but think that the real horror in this collection is the horror of sadness, grief, and longing. This type of horror is the horror that readers always feel deeper than any story about a monster or a serial killer. 

The first few stories did not do much for me. I was not instantly hooked into this collection, but by the time that I read the title story, “A Small Light”, I was starting to understand the theme of the collection and how everything fit together. “A Small Light” is about Ashley and Sandra, spouses who have decided to go on a camping trip. Of course things do not work out as planned. This reads like it can be turned into one of those cool little indie horror movies that are exclusive releases on Shudder, where the horror is slow and methodical but definitely being a menace in the woods. The next story, “Red Lips in a Blue Light” was first published in The New Flesh, the David Cronenberg inspired anthology, and this was when the hooks of this collection really grabbed me. I love how different this is from the rest of the collection, yet it fits into the themes perfectly. The rest of the collection breezes by, each story being as good as the next, and I decided to reread the beginning now that I knew the themes of these stories. I liked the stories the second time better than the first. 

A Small Light and Other Stories has a group of stories that really fit into a nice collection that has some really standout stories. Many of these can be turned into very cool films, and I would be excited to watch every one of them. I will come back to some of these stories, particularly “A Small Light”, “The Hollow Bones” and “Red Lips in a Blue Light” because they are just so good.

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