Review: ‘Darkness on the Edge’ edited by Harrison Howe

There’s a reason Bruce Springsteen is still around as a vital part of the music scene. It’s because he’s no shallow pop singer, no hack interested only in writing hooks that are equally playable and forgettable. Bruce Springsteen is a man with something to say, and he’s been saying it through his special brand of bruised poetry for decades now, with no sign he’s ready to hang it up.

That he’s influenced countless musicians should come as no surprise; that he’s influenced a number of writers probably shouldn’t be a surprise, either, but it was to me. In Darkness on the Edge, an anthology of stories inspired by Springsteen songs, it’s apparent that Springsteen is not only an influence on many writers, but he’s capable of driving several of them to some of their finest work.

In his introduction, editor Harrison Howe calls Springsteen’s songs “lyrical short stories,” and I can certainly agree with that. It’s a comparison  that I thought back on time and time again as I read through the stories, many of which flowed by as smoothly and effortlessly as a Springsteen song. It’s obvious that the writers who made it into the anthology were able to tap into more than the lyrics of Springsteen’s songs – they tapped into the soul of them, something far more difficult to do. There are no literal interpretations here, no simple transcriptions of songs into story forms. Instead, you’ve got tales that tell a different story than the songs that inspired them, yet share enough traits that the connection is obvious.

I like that Howe printed the title of the song along with the story that inspired it, and that he gave each author space to expound on the connections between story and song at the end of each piece. I recommend that anyone reading the book do what I did – listen to the song, read the story it inspired, and then listen to the song again. You’ll be amazed at how most of them go hand-in-hand, and if you’re like me, you’ll forever associate some of those songs with the stories from this book.

There were virtually no weak spots in this collection, but as always there are some standouts. These include:

“Something in the Night” by Lee Thomas (inspired by “Nothing Forgiven”): Thomas builds a classic ghost story around the idea of guilt. One man does all he can to flee an incident from his past, but finds that once he returns home those old ghosts are waiting for him. They still know his name, and yes, they remember what he did.

“Atonement” by Gary A. Braunbeck (inspired by “My Father’s House”): Braunbeck brings his trademark bleakness to this story, one which is just as haunting and melancholy as the song that inspired it. The narrator is the daughter of a broken man, and she does something for him that is both touching and disturbing at the same time – an act that was meant to heal, but instead leads to a tragedy fueled by rage and jealousy. This is one of the darkest, most intense pieces in a book full of them.

“From the Dark Heart of a Dream” by Tom Piccirilli (inspired by “Adam Raised A Cain”): This is a dark, at times surreal examination of the mysteries of the father-son relationship, with a particularly wrenching section in which the author discusses his relationship with his own father.

“Ain’t No Angel Gonna Greet Me” by Guy Adams (inspired by “Maria’s Bed”): This one’s a bit lighter on the introspection than the others I’ve mentioned, but it’s a whole lot of fun. In it we meet a man with the unique capability of talking with the dead, a man forced to put that talent to use for someone he doesn’t respect. Eventually, he’s able to use that talent to exhume some long-buried secrets along with the bodies he’s charged to find, and it all leads to the type of “bad-guy-gets-his” conclusion that would make EC Comics proud.

All in all, this is a well-rounded collection that combines horror, crime, and Springsteen in some unique and thought-provoking ways. It’s also a lot of fun, as the weightier pieces are balanced with some straight-up scary short stories. I’m a little late to the game with this one – PS Publishing released it in 2010 – but as far as I’m concerned it’s never too late to recommend a good book. Check out the PS Publishing site or scour the Internet for a copy of your own, and be sure to have some Springsteen handy when it arrives.

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