Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

In Springdale Town

Robert Freeman Wexler

PS Publishing

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 1-902-88053-6

Publication Date: 03-15-2003

86 Pages; $40.00

Date Reviewed: 06-17-03

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2003



Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Small towns are a natural setting for stories of the supernatural. The idyllic mid-American vistas visited by Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury are etched in the literary landscape. These days that kind of sentiment is a tough sell. But Robert Freeman Wexler dives into the heart of Americana in his chilling and tender novella 'In Springdale Town', from PS Publishing. It's written with the exact degree of clarity and imagination required to engage, subvert and submerge the reader into the alternate reality of beautifully written fiction. But this isn't memorabilia for the dewy-eyed. Wexler wields a scalpel with a finesse that would serve him equally well in surgery or sculpture.

The usual PS Publishing package complements this novella. The introduction is by Lucius Shepard. It's a chatty and entertaining look behind the scenes of Clarion, where he met the author for the first time. Once again, Edward Miller provides the cover. This book is also highlighted by some unusual typography. Footnotes are nicely inset throughout the text. It definitely enhances the reading experience.

'In Springdale Town' begins as an actor named Richard Shelling leaves his secure Santa Monica lifestyle for an abrupt move to the small town of Springdale. He tracks the town by instinct, led there as surely as a lemming to a cliff. It's a beautiful bit of Willoughbuy, slow and serene yet filled with life. Patrick Travis, on the other hand, is called to Springdale to attend the marriage of friends left behind after his divorce from his wife who remained behind. He's a lawyer who's not happy to be there. How these two men meet provides the gist of the story. It's not what most readers will imagine. Even when you think your guesses have been proved correct, Wexler lines up more surprises. 'In Springdale Town' is a tight, clean piece of imaginative fiction.

The novella is written in spare, elegant prose and complemented by odd bits of inserted text. These are eventually successful in helping to establish an atmosphere of unreality in a town that is written to seem utterly, prosaically real. Wexler does a notably good job of catching the reader off-guard and slowly shifts the mood from nostalgia to something darker. He also displays a vivid and original imagination in his evocations of the surreal and the unreal. Readers who enjoy the off-kilter fiction of Jonathan Carroll are definitely going to enjoy this novella, and should make a point of finding it. Wexler isn't particularly similar to Carroll in anything other than an ineffable quality of otherness, but that difficult-to-pin-down feeling is somehow easy to identify. Consider it identified: Robert Wexler writes some very accessible yet weird fiction that is definitely worth your time.