by Richard Chizmar
“I… I thought I was the only one. But… but you’re like me, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Like you and then some.”
Richard Chizmar’s outstanding collection of short stories, Midnight Promises, is another title suggested from John R. Little’s favorite 10 collections list. An unmistakable pattern is his choices has emerged.
The pattern is humanity and empathy, it’s spoken of in the Afterward by Ray Garton, and it permeates most of the stories here to a saturation point very few writers can reach. Midnight Promises consists of hardship, friendship and companionship, but its power comes from stripping away the friendlier elements and leaving us bare. This collection largely deals with loss.
Nearly the entire collection rates from very good to amazing. Two of the seventeen stories hit especially hard:
“Heroes” concerns the relationship between an adult man and his dying father and the lengths to which this man will go to keep his father alive. Fathers and sons have strained relationships these days, though it’s likely been like that throughout history. This particular story deals with a father/son relationship with the strongest of bonds. Some of us can relate while most of us probably cannot, but we all can see the reality of such a relationship through this story and our sense of nostalgia and longing is played upon here whether or not our own experiences compare. We at least wish they did, and because of that our hearts can expect some trauma from this story. Even writing this sentence makes me wish my relationship with my father was better than it is, and it hurts. This is top quality stuff.
The second is the title story, “Midnight Promises.” A woman visits the hospital every waking hour she is allowed, even at the expense of her own health, in order to stay by her dying husband’s side. Cancer is getting in its final blows, and communication is one-sided as the wife gives comfort by displaying old photos from their lives when they were together and happy.
Both of these stories are heartbreaking, and both contain horror. But most important is the skill on display in order to tie us inexorably to the characters and make us empathize with them. When they get hurt, so do we. If they’re emotionally involved in a situation, then so are we. It’s a rare quality.
Everything else in the collection is quite good at the least. Other highlights were:
“A Season of Change,” about an officer’s loss and his revenge.
“Homesick,” about going home, even if you’re the child of the most powerful man in the world.
“Beachcomber,” about a powerful spirit and the sacrifices he makes.
“Devil’s Night,” about a high-schooler witnessing and investigating a murder around Halloween.
“Only the Strong Survive,” about a girl with special powers and her domineering will.
There are many other great tales in this collection, and there is one common thread weaving through them all, portrayed no better than in the stories ‘Heroes’ and ‘Midnight Promises’. Mr. Chizmar can write real, vulnerable characters whom we can instantly attach ourselves to, and this makes the situations they find themselves in far more deeply felt.
He would had to have spent huge amounts of energy over the years building Cemetery Dance, this company that we love and would all miss terribly were it not around. It must have been an agonizing decision whether to pursue writing full time or build this company. Either way, we the readers won, and either way, we lost.
There’s some consolation in the fact another short story collection by Mr. Chizmar is scheduled to be published by Subterranean Press sometime next year.
Here’s the kicker quote from the book, echoing forever:
“Come dance the cemetery dance…”