The Dark Country by Dennis Etchison, Narrated by Dennis Etchison, Stefan Rudnicki, and Gabrielle de Cuir

The Dark Country collects sixteen short stories from Dennis Etchison’s career, some particularly short, and all of them brimming with imagination. Unfortunately, many of the stories in this collection end without any conclusion, needlessly terminating in cliff-hangers that left me less than satisfied. The style of writing and the quality of the storytelling were both great. It was the lack of any real ending to many of the stories that limited my enjoyment at times.
In most cases, I take the time to provide some manner of synopsis for each story included in a collection like this, but I will instead focus on a few of the stories that stood out to me as being the best of those included. In all honesty, some of the more surreal and peculiar tales would be impossible to review without giving everything away.
It Only Comes Out At Night is an excellent way to kick off the collection, as we join a husband and wife on a road trip through the desert. A lonely rest area is transformed into a sinister and horrific place where unknown threats lurk and unwary travelers might never leave. Etchison captures the eeriness and isolation of late-night travel on empty stretches of highway, as well as the almost sinister ambiance of those out-of-the-way oases we find ourselves stopping at against our better judgment. Whether it’s because we’re exhausted, we require fuel, or we’re desperately in need of a restroom, long-distance travel has forced all of us to stop at one of those rest areas or convenience stores arising seemingly from nothing as they appear in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately for the couple at the center of Etchison’s tale, this rest area might live up to those nightmare scenarios we imagine.
The cruel and monstrous twist awaiting readers at the end of The Pitch is both darkly comedic and altogether too plausible. A random gentleman offers to perform the sales pitch for a variety of kitchen gadgets in a shopping center, displaying the ease with which any slicing and dicing needs might be completed, with a special focus on the safety mechanisms. Buyer beware. Always check your purchases before use.
The Late Shift builds an atmosphere of mystery and confusion as two young men stop at an all-night convenience store where they swear they recognize the attendant behind the counter. Something isn’t right, and their attempts to uncover the truth might just provide an unsettling first-hand understanding of why overnight workers seem a little unusual.
Finally, the collection closes with The Dark Country, a story of a Mexican vacation and horrible mistakes made in response to a series of thefts. This final story showcases both the inherent bigotry of the Americans and the in-group vs. out-group thinking that emerges within the collected tourists as they begin perceiving the locals as predatory outsiders.
The various narrators brought different qualities to light within the stories they performed. It seems as if some thought went into the distribution of stories, to pair each tale with the voice best suited for the narrative in question.


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