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Reviewed by Carine Engelbrecht for Readers' Favorite
With Halfway Down the Stairs, Gary A. Braunbeck gifts readers with a dense, darkly brilliant collection of tales that amplify the many secret voices of the heart. Unspoken fears grow fangs and form, until they must be let out to consume the hapless protagonist in large chomps (Chow Hound), ambush him with future tragedies (Just Out of Reach) or maroon him amidst the grim realities of a terribly bleak present (We Pause Now for Station Identification). Many of the stories take place in Cedar Hill, a setting that will be unnervingly familiar to the author's regular fans. Blue collar dads and their harsh, painful relationships with their sons form a recurrent theme. The book is divided into three sections and each story of the second section is introduced by a "ring master" - a fellow author who has in some way been touched by Braunbeck's work.
The devil's in the details, so the saying goes, and Gary A. Braunbeck raises a horde of devils, ghosts and other monstrosities by paying attention to detail in his collection, Halfway Down the Stairs. By highlighting the minutest elements, he finds horror in everyday neglect and between the lines of cliched sayings used to justify cruelty. True, there are real old school monsters (Curtain Call) and depraved scientists (Patience), but with many of his damaged characters, their horrible afflictions, whether real or imaginary, are rooted firmly in the injustices and war wounds of our world - 'A Little Off the Top' and 'Ungrateful Places' are particularly good examples of this. Yet, he never skimps on compassion for the victims or villains that people his stories. A favorite technique of his is the truly telling stream of consciousness. He dissects character with a mastery not unlike that of King or Barker, instinctively homing in on those secret, hidden shadows that most clearly define a person.