Judging from how few truly great ones there are, single author collections may be the hardest books to get right. There are far more middling ones than there are consistently good ones, and there are very few classics (Bradbury, Lansdale and early King being some of the best). So Amy Grech‘s Blanket of White has the odds stacked against it merely by virtue of its format.
There’s a weird juxtaposition taking place in a lot of Grech’s stories featured here. Many take on the appearence of more antiquated(or at least more “traditional scary story”) material such as old castles partially constructed with headstones, mysterious noises in the night, the ghosts of old lovers while others use this same narrative style to take on far sicker subjects (genital mutilation, euthanasia, senseless killings perpetrated not by ghosts or ghouls, but by humans). It is when these two styles are mixed together (and there’s an additional dash of restraint) and an emphasis is placed on emotion over carnage that Grech’s best work emerges.
Grech’s prose is serviceable even if her dialogue is a bit over-explanatory at times (her style actually works quite well in the more traditional stories, lending them the pleasant ring of nostalgia) but the real problem here, as it is with so many collections, is inconsistency. There were stories I found myself really enjoying and ones…well, not so much.
The tales I liked and that gave me a welcome chill were, more often than not, the more restrained ones (“Damp Wind and Leaves” which goes back to that nostalgia quality mentioned above, “Ashes to Ashes” a short, sweet and scary downplayed example of Grech’s sex/romance/horror tropes, and ). Although, there are exceptions to every rule and my favorite story ended up being “EV 2000” a futuristic story about a machine that’s Hal 9000 meets a Dracula, a little bloated around the edges and owing a lot to Koontz’s Demon Seed, the story is still fun and carries an unexpected punch. But then there were the stories I was not crazy about, that take to long to get where they’re going (“Crosshairs” a sometimes chilling and effective story about a pint-sized psycho that starts too early and ends too late which wouldn’t be a problem if characterization weren’t so slim) and others that are just either over-the-top gross (“Come and Gone”) or too in-your-face with their symbolism and philosophizing (“Blanket of White” which seems to be a favorite of many, but rubs me the wrong way with its bombastic dourness and never really earns the emotion it so clearly wants because we know from the third paragraph what the little girl’s “gift” will be).
Grech should be applauded for her efforts to marry traditional straight-forward fright storytelling with emotional, sexual heft and weight… even if it doesn’t work every time. Regardless, there are a handful of stories to recommend and the price is right if you get it in digital.