Karl Pfeiffer’s follow up to the debut novel, Hallowtide, is a collection of short works. Into a Sky Below, Forever covers a wide range: fiction to non-fiction, poetry to story. Each piece exists in varying shades of darkness, a darkness that Pfeiffer knows how to work with, exploit, and make do his bidding. But even more so, Karl shows us the beauty in all of it, too. That, even in the dark, there are small shades of light that we cling to, as a form of salvation, and as a balance.
I reviewed three short stories that appear in this collection previously; all phenomenal, of high literary value, and promising. The rest of the collection makes well on those promises. The characters are extremely well developed throughout. They are distinctly human, in their fears and in their needs. These people are you or me, often in a situation that no one understands but themselves. Not only that, Karl gets into their heads and pulls out pure fear, and in doing so pulls out all of our fears. They are familiar to us and they often come in the dark.
In “Dissolution” there is a house that doesn’t exist and in it that familiar darkness that Karl works with. In each story, the darkness is intelligent, but also takes on its own properties, has their own personalities. Here, darkness is unfamiliar and all encompassing. The curtain is closed at the right time, leaving the reader unsettled and without many answers, but the answers can often be found within. Often, through all of these character’s vulnerabilities, the answers are there and they come from within, adding to the unease. In “Water’s Edge,” a very short piece, a tone familiar to Hallowtide makes itself known. Our character finds himself reflected in the waters, a beautiful self-perspective piece. Many of the stories carry with them a poetic sense; the prose is very beautiful, something Karl has mastered and displayed fully in these pieces as well as Hallowtide.
Where the reader is really tested is in the non-fiction works. The two that appear here relate to human paranormal experience. The first, “The Nature of the Beast” relate Pfeiffer’s experiences in the Stanley Hotel, with the myriad of spirits there. Often he reflects on the nature of these experiences, testing human sanity versus power beyond our understanding. Some of the spirits that inhabit the Stanley are frightening and of an elemental nature. In the second piece, “Dark Processes,” a malevolence stalks a woman throughout her life. This story is dark, very dark, but there is hope in a marriage and a grotesque.
Into a Sky Below, Forever holds a special place for me among the greatest short works collections I’ve read. It has a lot in common with Neil Gaiman’s collections; poetry and stories, but these have a very King and Barker dark elemental force behind them. These pieces stay with you, whether you like them to or not. That is the sign of a great writer; and in many ways writers are magicians. Some cast light spells, some dark, and Karl the darkest. This is a collection for the ages from one of the best new writers of this decade.
Karl’s Website: http://www.karlpfeiffer.com/