Of One Pure Will is the first short story collection from author Farah Rose Smith. I had gotten the impression she was a writer of cosmic horror, though I found my expectations challenged with this book. The introduction, by Fiona Maeve Geist, compares her to authors like Lautreamont and Huysmans rather than other horror authors. While the influence of Lovecraft, Poe, and the other usual suspects is here, Smith has her own style heavily influenced by poetry and Decadent writers. The closest comparison I can think of here is Thomas Ligotti at his most experimental.
“The landscape has grown unpredictable. The strangeness of the lands fluctuates morbidly. At once we would pass through red mist over grey grasses, completely unfamiliar to me in my travels with my parents. Another moment there would be broken walls, battlements of castles in pale light. There would be a great purple forest, a field of volcanic ash, an unimaginable lake of gold and water.”
Many of the 18 stories here are quite short, but fit a lot into their length. One of the longer stories, and probably the most traditional horror story, is “Sorcerer Machine.” A man visits his sister after her husband passes to find that she’s gradually losing her mind. Everyone except her son has abandoned her. He soon finds that the source of all the problems seems to be a mysterious black cabinet.
This is a fairly typical cosmic horror story, but told very well with some great prose. The reveal at the end is appropriately horrifying and surreal. Smith also provides a unique and interesting backstory for the object of horror woven in smoothly with excerpts of letters.
Another of the more traditional stories is “The Visitor.” A singer for a rock band sacrifices her lover and band mate to an otherworldly being for success. However, that success comes with a horrifying price. It’s, again, a fairly typical “Faustian bargain” story, but Smith’s prose and descriptions of body horror make it a excellent one.
Most of the pieces in the book, however, read more like prose poems more than stories. For example, “In the Way of Eslan Mendeghast” tells a story about a bully who picks on the wrong kid and faces dire consequences. That, though, would be an oversimplification of what the piece is like. It’s a nightmarish, surreal piece that doesn’t really properly begin or end, but it presents a kaleidoscope of horrible images in a way that hit me hard. It’s easily one of my favorite pieces.
A couple other favorite pieces of mine are “Dark Ocean” and “Rithenslofer (The Corpse of Mer).” Both of these are dark, nightmare-like prose poem pieces revolving around the ocean and the horrors that lay within it. “Dark Ocean” concerns an unnamed character stranded on a floating boat that aimlessly wanders the titular ocean. “Rithenslofer (The Corpse of Mer)” details the rising of an unspeakable terror rising from the sea. Neither of these pieces are heavily plot or character driven, but really show Smith’s ability to convey unnerving surreal imagery.
Not all of the pieces work for me. For example, the titular piece and “As Unbreakable as the World” were simply impenetrable to me. Re-readings gave me no further clarification, and while there was some very nice turns of phrase within them, they ultimately failed to make any impact on me.
Review copy provided
Of One Pure Will shows Farah Smith Rose as an incredibly skilled writer. Her ability to convey disgusting and disturbing imagery in gorgeous prose is certainly something to be admired. While she also shows she can be excellent storyteller when she wants to, it's clear she's more interested in writing Gothic, surreal nightmare poetry. For people looking for more traditional horror stories, this book isn't really for them, but horror fans looking for something different written with beautiful craftsmanship should definitely pick this up.