That Which Grows Wild Front Cover 300 dpi The title of award-​winning author Eric J. Guignard’s debut col­lec­tion of short sto­ries hints at things unruly and dis­rup­tive, envi­ron­ments pos­si­bly dan­ger­ous and cer­tainly beyond human con­trol. Among them: an inhos­pitable desert where a des­per­ate woman hopes foot­prints will lead her to safety and a beach where a tsunami that wiped out a young woman’s fam­ily leaves behind a mys­te­ri­ous doll. Guignard’s abil­ity to uses expertly drawn locales to evoke feel­ings make these six­teen tales all the more mem­o­rable and haunting.

Some of the sto­ries strad­dle the line between gen­res, as in “The Last Days of Gun­slinger John Amos,” a story which com­bines ele­ments of west­erns, hor­ror, and sci­ence fic­tion in a tale about a good-​hearted gun­slinger strug­gling to save the lives of five kids not his own. In “Dreams of a Lit­tle Sui­cide” an offer of a chance to play a munchkin in the Wiz­ard of Oz evokes the tone of a romance until events take a darker turn.

Many of Guignard’s sto­ries involve ordi­nary peo­ple forced to try to adapt to the sur­real and the weird. In “Cer­tain Sights of an Afflicted Woman,” a woman’s infected eye enables her to see beyond the dusty, windswept prairie town now pop­u­lated only by corpses, includ­ing that of her sis­ter, who was gifted with a dif­fer­ent kind of “sight.” And in “Whis­pers of the Earth,” he looks at grief through the eyes of a wid­ower in a town where peo­ple are dis­ap­pear­ing into sink­holes that appear on the ten-​year anniver­sary of a tragedy.

The intrigu­ingly titled “A Case Study in Nat­ural Selec­tion and How It Applies to Love” posits a super-​heated world where watch­ing a friend spon­ta­neously com­bust is noth­ing out of the ordi­nary and win­ning your dream girl comes down to stay­ing alive longer than the rest of her suitors.

Guig­nard brings to his writ­ing a gift for vivid, some­times lumi­nous imagery, as when he describes the unrav­el­ing of a woman’s men­tal state as “…Margie’s imag­i­na­tion, pre­vi­ously a mouse slum­ber­ing in some dark crevice of her brain, began to wake and scurry about, gnaw­ing on com­mon sense…”

That Which Grows Wild cements Guignard’s already con­sid­er­able rep­u­ta­tion as an adept and mas­ter­ful sto­ry­teller. Read­ers who rel­ish dark fic­tion rich with com­pelling char­ac­ters and for­bid­ding land­scapes won’ be disappointed.

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  • I like a western-​horror blend, so “The Last Days of Gun­slinger John Amos” appeals to me. (And I’m a bit of a Trekkie, too, so the sci­ence fic­tion bit also works.) Thanks for the review!