Never Whistle at Night
Edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Last Jr.
Vintage Books, 2023
Reviewed by Nick Sweeney
“Ruins are extensions of the people who built and lived within their walls. And they show us what we’ll all become: the stories of everything and everyone we leave behind.”
—Darcie Little Badger, “The Scientist’s Horror Story,” p. 353
Anthologies are often difficult beasts to review—each author has their own pacing and style, their own angle on their craft. And, honestly, not every reader likes every style. It could feel like a stop-and-go process; just when you find a story that binds you, it gives you up. Never Whistle at Night, an anthology focused on Indigenous dark fiction and edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Last Jr., however, offers over four hundred pages of nonstop “I’m reading the next story with the lights on I swear” tales. Not only is there something here for every type of reader, but each of the twenty-six stories beckons seductively to be read, and then reread with the lights on.
The collection begins with a warning—a forward and introduction—by noted writer Stephen Graham Jones that prepares the reader for what comes next: “There’s scary stuff in stories, sure, there’s stuff that keeps you up at night, there’s stuff that makes you watch the darkness you’re driving through that much closer. But there’s hope, too. Just—some nights you have to wade through a lot of blood to get there.” It contains multitudes: of horror of the unknown and familiar, of the evil we see and that which we cannot possibly anticipate. Each story haunts the reader just a bit more than the last and leaves them wondering at that terrible possibility. And, if read backwards, the same applies. The stories collected here bounce off each other with such terrible momentum that it leaves it impossible to put down and walk away.
Never Whistle at Night contains the vastness of horror fiction, but three particular themes stand out: the historical power of blood, the supernatural and natural terrors of the night, and the importance of storytelling and the storyteller. There is an importance to bloodlines and lineage in many Indigenous communities that outsiders may not fully comprehend—but Rebecca Roanhorse’s “White Hills” and Nick Medina’s “Quantum” leave the readers with images and endings they will soon not forget. Whereas Shane Hawk’s “Behind Colin’s Eyes” has a familiar twist on possession and it takes a refreshingly new angle to it, “Wingless” by Marcie R. Rendon reminds us that not all monsters are myths. And in horror, perhaps more so than most if not all genres, who tells the story is as important as the twists and turns of the story itself. Richard Van Camp’s “Scariest. Story. Ever.,” shows us the danger of stories themselves and how we should tell them for the right reasons (and what happens when we fall short of that). “The Scientist’s Horror Story,” by Darcie Little Badger starts with the retelling of a traditional horror story but ends with the unfortunate horror of reality itself. The collection leaves you wanting more—and lets you sit uneasy with what you already have.
Never Whistle at Night is a simple—and true—warning. The things that scare us most often live within ourselves. They sit patiently in the back of our minds, our memories, and our histories, as they wait for the appropriate moment to strike. They are our ruins. A reader will leave this collection with the weight of the true and imagined horrors that exist in modern America. And it is vital we read—and continue to champion—these stories and these writers. One can hope that this anthology is not the last of its kind, and in the near future, this particular reader will just have to read the next one with the lights on.