The winner of a Bram Stoker award for poetry a few years back, Corrine De Winter is a name that has – up until now – escaped me. Following a quick perusal of past achievements we find a lyrical writer held in high regard by the collective tribe. In between reading some of the more commercial fare over the course of a year, I like to seek out those elusive gems: fiction not sliding easily into any well defined category. Valentines for the Dead - for all its intangible qualities - is an innovative collection that more than satisfies this requirement.
And make no mistake: this is indeed the territory of a poet. From the opening story Halo a reader is granted prose that shies away from the nuts and bolts of story, favoring instead a lyrical syntax told primarily in first person. Although the horror can be difficult to find at times, Corrine keeps it waiting in the wings – a small turn of phrase giving way to an unexpected twist where all that has come before can be questioned. Whether it’s a child who grows up in a house of thaumaturgy and eventually learns to fly (or a jealous sibling who dabbles in fratricide for eternal love), Corrine has a powerful command of language with just enough obscure story to perhaps warrant a second reading. If I could level a certain criticism, it would be that each first person tale contains a similar voice; with the run-off sometimes confusing. It was challenging, at times, to ascertain where old territory ended and new characters began.
A few personal standouts would include Youth is Wasted – a modern Frankenstein riff where a child pays the ultimate price for an elderly man’s broken heart. Watercolor is delightfully malign; a domestic Village of Damned that, in due course, brings forth new life from death. But taking out the top prize here would have to be Dead Boys – an original blend of fact and fiction centered on the subject of premature death in rock n’ roll's realm ... and the individuals who deal with our flesh after expiration.
A short story collection that is mythic, thought provoking (and with just the right twist of gothic), Valentines for the Dead is an accomplished fictional début from a unique talent.