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The Horror Was Always Here: Never Whistle At Night, edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr.
A look at a new anthology of dark fiction by Indigenous American authors.
In recent years, there seems to be more attention being paid to Indigenous authors in genre fiction, especially with Stephen Graham Jones (who wrote the introduction to this book) winning the Stoker award for best novel two years in a row in 2021 and 2020 and Owl Goingback taking it in 2019, among both winning several other awards. There seems no better time for an anthology like Never Whistle at Night. Edited by Shane Hawk and Theo C. Van Alst Jr., this anthology is labeled as indigenous “dark fiction,” meaning it includes not just horror, but also crime, dark fantasy, depressing realist fiction, and even some dark comedy.
One of my favorite stories in the book is “Collections” by Amber Blaeser-Wardzala. This a darkly satirical story in which a Native scholarship student, also working waiting tables to pay for school, goes to a social gathering at one of her professor’s homes. There, they discover that the professor openly displays a collection of mounted human heads on her wall.
Meg, the student, is naturally terrified despite how normal the other guests are treating it. Meg is even more terrified when she finds out the heads belong to former students of hers who she took under her wing and made successful. The professor is even more proud of how “diverse” her collection is. She’s only missing one person of a certain race to complete it.
This story is both funny and disquieting and sharply mocks the concept of a “diversity” that acts as a means of painting a rainbow on existing institutions instead of working towards liberating marginalized groups. It also looks at why members of these groups seem willing to “sell out” despite the consequences in a nuanced way.
“Sundays” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden is one of the heaviest stories in the book. A Native man named Thomas is haunted by the memories of being raped by the priest who taught choir at his Catholic residential school. The priest attacked not just him, but other boys at the school, including one who took his own life. Now a widower and realizing he has no legal route to receive recompense from the school, he tracks down the priest himself to have a conversation with him.
This is an excellently crafted revenge tale that takes an issue that haunts many of Indigenous descent, the trauma inflicted by residential schools, and makes it a deeply personal and human story. Weiden’s other work is now on my list to read.
Many of the works aren’t exactly subtle about addressing issues pertinent to Indigenous people of America, but for most of the stories, it’s to their benefit. “White Hills” by Rebecca Roanhorse is one such story. Marissa is living her dream life with her handsome husband in a beautiful upper-class neighborhood. To top it all off, she’s expecting their first child. Then she makes the mistake of revealing she’s part Native at the country club, while having no idea just how much the neighborhood, and especially her husband’s family, is opposed to any kind of race-mixing.
This is a brutal and disturbing story addressing not just the issues of discrimination faced by Native people, but how many will want the “street cred” or “exoticism” of being part of a minority without any of the issues that they face in America. Especially in a minority like Indigenous people in America who faced decades staring down the barrel of colonialism and genocide.
There are also stories that draw on Native legends and folklore. For example, the opening story of the collection is “Kushtuka” by Mathilda Zeller. It’s a fairly simple but enjoyable story of a Native woman and her racist white boss fending off the titular ghost-like creature. Shane Hawk’s story, “Behind Colin’s Eyes” is likewise a creepy story about a young Native man and his family being pursued by a creature that possesses people’s bodies.
Never Whistle at Night is a solid collection of unsettling fiction. It introduced me to some authors I’m eager to read more from. It shows horror from the perspectives of Indigenous people of different backgrounds and from a wide variety of kinds from realistic to fantastic. Highly recommended.
Thank you to Julie Ertle for providing an ARC of this book.