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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: The Fair Grounds

7th Feb, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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The Fair Grounds by Tobias Seamon was released by PS Publishing in 2013.

Faced with economic decline the village of Kaaterskill in the Hudson Valley hires architect Francis North to turn its fortunes around. A former resident of the area, North is famous for designing graveyards that are so grandiose and strikingly different they become tourist attractions. For Kaaterskill he creates The Fair Grounds, a cemetery that has both areas of wonder and other parts that are deeply unsettling. The cemetery succeeds in attracting tourists to the area, but the increasingly unbalanced North insists on staying on as a caretaker, which causes problems with his wife Emily and brings him into conflict with the town council who have their own ideas on how the cemetery should be run. The stage is set for disaster when the council organise a Halloween fair in an attempt to revive the fortunes of The Fair Grounds.

This was an absorbing and completely engrossing read. In the figure of Francis North we have an almost archetypal study of the flawed genius. The reasons for his morbid obsession with graveyards is put over with a delightful subtlety, while the various designs he comes up with are fascinating in both their concept and realisation. The landscapes are like those of Bosch or Breughel, and reading this book you wish to wander through them. And yet we can never get past the idea that it is death being celebrated here, that as the book's title implies North has turned his cemetery into a glorified theme park, the text hinting at both the elevation and cheapening of a fundamental human need for closure and marking of life's passing. With the various macabre exhibits, such as the Cairn and the Headless Horseman (an allusion to Washington Irving's story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which is supposed to have taken place in this locale) that go to make up The Fair Grounds, there is a definite horror vibe going on, one that is reflected in the reasoning behind each construction and then moves firmly into the foreground with the change of seasons and the disasters of the Halloween fair. It is almost as if The Fair Grounds have come alive, and demand a blood sacrifice. But at the same time the whole thing is so over the top, not least in the events of the Halloween fair, you can't help feeling there is more than a little black comedy on offer here. Overall it is a fascinating and original work of fiction, shot through with invention and vivid imagery, while touching on deep seated human concerns, a book that will almost certainly reward future repeat readings. I loved it, and I'm kicking myself that I took so long to get round to reading it.




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