My introduction to Brian Hodge came through two pieces of short fiction: “The Same Deep Waters as You” and “He Sings of Salt and Wormwood.” (The latter can be found in Ellen Datlow’s excellent anthology The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea; I don’t remember where I read the former.) Both pieces impressed me so much that I sought out Hodge’s longer work. His novella I’ll Bring You the Birds from Out of the Sky is a cosmic horror story that also speaks to the power of art.
The vivid imagery of New England settings in the writing of Lovecraft and Stephen King gives their stories a strong sense of place, and Hodge does the same for Appalachia here. His language is particularly evocative when describing the environmental devastation wreaked by coal mining and the poverty left behind as the industry abandoned the region. At first, the discovery of potentially valuable paintings seems like an opportunity to bring some money and public attention to a community that the rest of the country has largely forgotten about. This being a horror story, there turns out to be a sinister power behind these works of art. But was the painter trying to exorcise his demons or to call them up?
That sense of place infuses the paintings that are so important to the story, and not just because the aforementioned sinister power is a localized one. Hodge talks about Conklin (the painter) incorporating natural elements such as leaves and moss into the paintings. These small details—for example, Conklin using moss as a stippling sponge—help the reader to imagine more than just a generic landscape. A tale in which art is so central stands or falls on how well it can make the reader visualize those artworks. Hodge succeeds admirably, and that’s a large part of what makes the book so engaging.
Another strength of the book is the way it deals with the common genre trope of body horror. I gather that Hodge has written some hardcore/extreme horror in the past, but here he eschews gore in favor of a more philosophical look at radical transformation. What’s particularly interesting is the way he juxtaposes this with the transformation that humans have imposed on the landscape. Humanity adapted the land to suit their needs, but the story shows something rooted in the land beginning to adapt humans to its needs. For such a short work, there’s a lot going on here, and it makes me either to try out Hodge’s full novel The Immaculate Void.