Story of the Week: The Overseer by Albert E. Cowdrey

Perhaps my view of American fantasy and horror is biased. As someone born and raised in the American South, I have always believed that the most native and fully fleshed American fantasy and horror works have owed their very lifeblood to the literary sub-genre of Southern Gothic. William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily." "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" by Flannery O'Connor. The novels of Cormac McCarthy and Dorothy Allison and Anne Rice. The mix of sultry Southern settings of humidity and heat and green and decay, combined with hundreds of years of racial and political turmoil, create a backdrop against which fantasy and horror grow until they seem all too real. Appear all too capable to swallowing us alive.

My new story of the week is Southern Gothic at its best: "The Overseer" by Albert E. Cowdrey, published in the March 2008 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The story follows the life tale of Nicholas Lerner, a rich and powerful one-armed Confederate veteran reaching the end of his life in 1903 New Orleans. The story opens with Lerner's valet Morse prying into the life of the crippled old man even as Morse cleans and prepares his employer for the new day. "Damn him, thought Lerner. He knows I detest conversation with a razor at my throat." Of course, that ironic sentence sums up all of Lerner's haunted life, as every conversation he's ever engaged in has been with a razor to his throat--or him holding one against someone else's very existence. Now Lerner is desperate to free himself from the literal spectre which has propelled him through this cursed life, but equally unwilling to give up the riches his life has granted him.

"The Overseer" is a ghost story of racial conflict, hate, revenge,  war, and survival, but it is also much more. This story forces the reader to ask how many of the world's evils results from our own sinful actions, and how many result from those who overseer our every movement. This story is highly recommended and will no doubt be on many of the coming 2008 "year's best" lists.