Wakeful Children by S.P. Oldham is a delightful collection of extremely well-written short stories guaranteed to hearken readers back to a cherished past, when they sat by a fire and listened with rapt attention as granny told scary stories. For those not lucky enough to possess such memories, Wakeful Children will fill that gap.
Oldham’s stories read like fairy tales cross pollinated by the Twilight Zone. Some are more gruesome than Grimm. Each tale is told in third person by a gentle, all-knowing voice that lends a haunting, personal quality to each story. Surprise endings and ambiguous conclusions will echo and linger in readers’ minds, causing them to rethink each story.
The characters are all unique: old, young, men, women; some are innocent, and some are downright dangerous. Everyone can find a character with whom they can identify.
The setting of each tale is precise enough to visualize, yet nebulous enough so that readers will feel that they might take place in any small town in Great Britain in various non-specific eras.
The silky plots are all intelligent and well-structured. The speed of each trajectory is carefully timed to hold a reader’s attention, to draw readers more closely into the terror. A grown-up version of the boogey man deliciously lingers over every single second, savoring every bit of terror. Readers will find themselves holding their breath along with the protagonist as he hides under the covers and listens for the ticking sound to draw closer. With a jolt, Joe Gallows transforms from a singular, twisted prankster to something much more dangerous. Ghosts, witches, and even diabolic weather conditions challenge characters and test their ability to survive.
Oldham’s style is clear and economical. She incorporates vivid descriptions and stunning metaphors without burdening the text with unnecessary words. The author’s attention to detail will enhance a reader’s ability visualize each setting without getting bogged down by excess.
The most notable quality of the collection, is the fact that each story has a unique plot. There is absolutely no redundancy among them and no derivative retelling of iconic tales, a sad practice that is all too common in the genre.
It can be said that the full-speed-ahead nature of current society is the perfect reason more readers reach for short story collections. Those who enjoy horror, hauntings, and the unexplained should give Wakeful Children a read.
Wakeful Children is not out in print.