“A Choir Of Ill Children” by Tom Piccirilli

It was that title that caught my interest. It’s brilliant, evocative, and I wish I had thought of it. What a perfect Gruntsplatter song title. . . and so it fermented my brain, teasing and prodding my curiosity

I stumbled on a used copy of the Night Shade hardcover edition, in great shape, for $10 a few months ago and snatched it up. I’d draw it from the shelf now and then to admire the title and Caniglia cover art, then put it back for another day.

An opportunity to have a story critiqued by Mr. Piccirilli is what got me to excavate it from the “to be read” pile. I had only read a handful of his short stories, and I wanted to get a better idea of where his vision was coming from before I saw his critique.

It’s an impressive vision. A Choir Of Ill Children takes place deep in the superstitious bayou. It’s a degenerate world of swamp witchery, the ghosts and demons of family, and transcendent loyalty.

It’s Piccirilli’s sense of place and characterization that impressed me. He’s sculpted a rich world steeped in the sense of history that’s so important to the numerous story threads.  His character’s, each of them haunted in their own way, are authentic. The story weaves in a lot of things I have a personal affection for  – bog witches, the resonance of landmarks, the inherent creepiness of small towns, shabby carnivals, and so on – Piccirilli paints them with vivid colors.

The story is dense, some threads that seem crucial at the beginning end up not being as significant as the book evolves. They are introduced as catalysts for something else, and then fade into the background. If I had a gripe, it would be that. There is more that could have been done with some of the threads, or they could have been removed if they weren’t as important as suggested. They do add to the texture of the world and the personality of the large cast though, and that texture and personality is how A Choir Of Ill Children worms into your guts.

Piccirilli’s vision and captivating prose, earns A Choir Of Ill Children a home among other notable Southern Gothics. There are various editions that have been released since it was first published, and I’m not sure what’s in print and what’s not, but you should go find out.

Cross-p0sted from The Aberrant Laboratory


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