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May 18th, 2008

How is it horror?

I've just finished reading the novella ILLYRIA, by Elizabeth Hand. I loved her GENERATION LOSS, and this one intrigued me since it's a finalist in the new Shirley Jackson Awards.

Now, without addressing the quality of the actual writing, mind you, I have a serious question for anyone who has read this (especially if you're connected with the Jacksons): How is this possibly horror? Or dark fiction, or dark fantasy, or whatever euphemism is applied so we don't have to use the H-word?

This is a story about cousins from a once-great family who fall in love. They're teenagers, so of course we know they'll be discovered sooner or later, but even that tension is not the story's main point. It's a love story. It's a coming-of-age story. The overall tone is sweet and poignant. It has one light fantasy element which is really more metaphor than true fantasy anyway.

It has no horror elements. There's not a single scene or element which is designed to frighten or disturb (unless you count family drama, in which case we're opening up one pretty gigantic can of worms).

If this is horror, then so are THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, A SEPARATE PEACE and WEST SIDE STORY. Either LESS THAN ZERO or LORD OF THE FLIES would be considerably closer to horror fiction than this.

Hey, I'm all for broadening the horizons of the genre, but not to the point where it stops being the genre. If these awards are going to recognize excellence in "psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic" (that's from their website), I'm all for it. But when they nominate something that very simply does NOT qualify for any of those descriptions, then I'm left wondering just what their criteria really are.