North American Lake Monsters

Nathan Ballingrud  - published July 2013

July 16, 2013 · published simultaneously in trade cloth (9781618730596) & trade paper (9781618730602) Ebook · 9781618730619 | Available on Audible
Trade paper, Second printing: 10/14 · Third: 10/16 · Fourth: 6/19

Adapted into the TV series, Monsterland, on Hulu

Shirley Jackson Award winner
World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Award finalist Locus Recommended Reading 
Rights sold: Audio; Poland (MAG), Hungary (Agave); Russia (AST); Spain (Fata Libelli)

Nathan Ballingrud’s debut collection is a shattering and luminous experience not to be missed by those who love to explore the darker parts of the human psyche. Monsters, real and imagined, external and internal, are the subject. They are us and we are them and Ballingrud’s intense focus makes these stories incredibly intense and irresistible. These are love stories. And also monster stories. Sometimes these are monsters in their traditional guises, sometimes they wear the faces of parents, lovers, or ourselves. The often working-class people in these stories are driven to extremes by love. Sometimes, they are ruined; sometimes redeemed. All are faced with the loneliest corners of themselves and strive to find an escape.

Table of Contents
You Go Where It Takes You
Wild Acre
The Crevasse
The Monsters of Heaven [read on]
North American Lake Monsters [read at the Weird Fiction Review]
The Way Station
The Good Husband

Reviews and Reactions

“This short story collection teems with monsters — from vampires to werewolves to white supremacists — all in a contemporary Southern setting. In ‘Sunbleached,’ a vengeful teenager kidnaps a vampire. In the title story, a serial killer lake monster terrorizes a town, while a father recently released from prison struggles to reconnect with his family. Reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, Karen Russell, and Stephen King, these nine short stories center around working-class lives and examine themes of toxic masculinity and monstrosity.” — Margaret Kingsbury, Buzzfeed

“My favorite collection from the last 5 years.” — Sarah Langan

“A bleak and uncompromising examination of 21st century masculinity through lenses of dark fantasy, noir, and horror. Ballingrud is an important figure in North American letters.” — Laird Barron

“Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters is an exceptional fictional debut: It deserves a place alongside collections like Peter Straub’s Magic Terror, Scott Wolven’s Controlled Burn, Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake, Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. Like those works, Ballingrud’s stories delve into the damaged psyches of American men, with a distinctly twenty-first-century awareness of  the world we now inhabit, itself as damaged as the shellshocked figures that populate it. Ballingrud’s tales are ostensibly tales of terror, meticulously constructed and almost claustrophobically understated in their depiction of an all- encompassing horror that, despite its often unearthly shimmer, is human rather than supernatural in origin; Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” or Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” as reimagined by Robert Stone or Cormac McCarthy.” —Elizabeth Hand, F&SF

“Pain has a rich and varied language, both mundane and transcendent, with infinite variations and many subtle flavours. Pain is one of the most private experiences people face, and yet a universal experience. North American Lake Monsters uses this palette to create most of its narrative hues and textures, to sharpen and heighten the characteristics of its profoundly human, deeply flawed characters. What sets this collection of short stories apart is the way the supernatural, magical and horrific are utilized like a light source, illuminating dark places while casting even deeper shadows. Ballingrud’s writing is piercing and merciless, holding the lens steady through fear, rage and disgust, showing a weird kind of love to his subjects, in refusing to turn away, as well as an uncompromising pitilessness. Angels and vampires are placed next to lost white supremacist boys and burnt-out waitresses. All are equally, horribly ugly and real.” —Toronto Globe and Mail

North American Lake Monsters is not a physically demanding book — slim, spare and elegant in appearance, not heavy to the heft — but here appearances are deceptive. Because it is a truly impressive book, one to which attention should be paid. The stories carry (so lightly) a weight of hinterland and incident, of emotional power and implication, seemingly to excess for their modest size. And they punch with that weight solidly behind them.” — John Howard, Wormwood

“Each one of these nine stories has the capacity to seduce and terrify you.” —Andrew Liptak, io9

“Matched to his original ideas and refreshing re­furbishments of genre set pieces, Ballingrud’s writ­ing makes North American Lake Monsters one of the best collections of short fiction for the year. —Locus

“The beauty of the work as a whole is that it offers no clear and easy answers; any generalization that might be supported by some stories is contradicted by others. It makes for an intellectually stimulating collection that pulls the reader in unexpected directions. The pieces don’t always come to a satisfactory resolution, but it is clear that this is a conscious choice. The lack of denouement, the uncertainty, is part of the fabric of the individual stories and of the collection as a whole. It is suggestive of a particular kind of world: one that is dark, weird, and just beyond our ability to impose order and understanding. These are not happy endings. They are sad and unsettling, but always beautifully written with skillful and insightful prose. It is a remarkable collection.” —Hellnotes

“Ballingrud’s language transforms known quantities into monsters again. . . . “You Go Where It Takes You,” the opening story of the collection, sets the tone and, with its shocking ending, frames the moral of North American Lake Monsters. Transformation carries a shocking cost. Two recent, disastrous transformations of the American landscape reverberate through the book: Katrina and the financial crisis. New Orleans is felt as a lost love. So is the American Dream, which seems now to have vanished for good along with Bear Stearns’s collateralized debt obligations. The transformations of Ballingrud’s characters echo these cataclysms. And yet–despite all the blame that’s flying around the landscape, and in the teeth of our contemporary hysteria about anything resembling reckless behavior–he refuses to judge them. These people do some really terrible things. They suffer. But there’s no sense of comeuppance earned, much less deserved. This is the most striking quality of this extraordinary collection: the compassion of Ballingrud’s gaze. He makes no excuses for his characters, never comes near to glorifying their bad choices, and yet never looks down on them. The reader is left with the scarcely bearable knowledge that in the end, the subjects of North American Lake Monsters are human.”—Amazing Stories

“What Nathan Ballingrud does in North American Lake Monsters is to reinvigorate the horror tradition.” —John Langan, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Dark, quirky stories.”—Charlotte Observer “Ballingrud’s work isn’t like any other. These stories are full of sadness and sorrow, but they’re not merely sad. Like Tom Waits, Ballingrud is an expert at teasing out every delicious shade and nuance, every fine gradation of misery and pain. It’s a heady and fantastic cocktail mixed from roughnecks and down-and-outers and flawed people who find in their ordinary and terrible world monsters, magic, and the strange. Ballingrud’s fantastic elements are never seen full on, but always out of the corner of your eye, and it makes them all the more haunting.” —Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

“A good horror story stays with you long after reading it. A great horror story doesn’t simply stay with you, it haunts you, and Nathan Ballingrud’s fiction does just that. He breathes life into rough, blue-collar characters and places them in some of the best dark fiction being written today. Every single story in this collection is an emotional gut punch.  The despair that saturates these tales is rich, and often it is not the supernatural elements in these tales that is horrific.” —Arkham Digest

“For those willing to go down the dark road that’s laid out here, and those willing to feel complex patterns of sympathy, disgust, and horror for (often bad) people, this is an interesting collection. Uncomfortable a read as it is, it has the tinge of reality to it: a reality that often we’d rather not look at.” —Brit Mandelo,

“It’s Raymond Carver territory, beautifully written and right on target for today: construction work, waitressing, tattoos, and white supremacists. And shattering each story is the luminous, the terrifying, the Lovecraftian otherness that reveals what it really feels like to be alive in this moment in time.  Ballingrud’s fantastical werewolves and human skins and Antarctic staircases evoke the truth of our own fears about life.” —Maureen F. McHugh (After the Apocalypse)

“One of the best horror short story collections published during the last couple of years.” —Rising Shadows

“These stories are dark and gritty nightmares, filled with a deep and humane soulfulness. You don’t get a lot of dark fiction or horror quite like that. Wonderful stuff.” — Christopher Barzak

“Ballingrud’s lyrical and intense stories play on deeply personal fears and anxieties of the social outcast, the people who struggle to maintain relationships (spousal, parental, etc). People who are us. And like Daniel Woodrell and Donald Ray Pollack, Ballingrud’s stories pack an authentic emotional punch. No sentimentality here. Ballingrud doesn’t moralize and he doesn’t offer easy answers. You probably won’t like the protagonist of “You Go Where It Takes You,” but you’ll empathize with her; you’ll understand why she’s doing what she’s doing. And, ah, that’s the horror. Ballingrud’s stories will keep you up at night, and you’ll continue to obsess over them for many days after.” — Paul Tremblay

“Highly recommended. Nathan Ballingrud’s debut collection uses complex characters and startlingly beautiful language to reinvent the horror genre. In Ballingrud’s grim landscapes we encounter the supernatural as a chink in the human: sometimes terrifying, sometimes marvelous, but always captivating. His stories reward repeated reading.” — Helen Marshall

“One of the best collections I’ve read in years. Beautifully crafted fiction, stories that’ll really affect you and keep you thinking long after you’ve finished the book.” — Tim Lebbon

“The exceptional quality of the writing aside, what most impressed me about this collection was how the uncanny and the supernatural were used to augment stories that a chronicler of everyday tragedy and misfortune, like William Gay for example, often wrote about. At times I felt like I was reading a new approach to horror fiction, and that’s a very refreshing prickle to feel across my scalp.” — Adam Nevill

“Wild Acre” was a Shirley Jackson Award finalist.

Listen: Audio discussion with between Nathan Ballingrud and Karen Lord and Karen Burnham about the story “The Good Husband.”

Susan Stinson and Bob Flaherty (“My god, Susan! What you have you done to me!”) talk about North American Lake Monsters on WHMP.


Red Room interview by Asha Vose
Read an interview. the Laurel of Asheville Shirley Jackson Awards blog BooklifeNow

Early Reviews on “Sunbleached.” Colleen Mondor on “North American Lake Monsters.” Lucius Shepard writing an appreciation of “You Go Where It Takes You.” Two videos in which Nathan participated, promoting Teeth (Ellen Datlow, ed.), which featured “Sunbleached.” “Nathan Ballingrud is one of my favorite short fiction writers.”—Jeff VanderMeer

“Nathan Ballingrud’s ‘The Way Station’ is another story of the sort I’ve come to expect from him: emotionally intense, riveting, and deeply upsetting in many ways. It deals with loss, with the aftereffects of Katrina on a homeless alcoholic who’s haunted by the city itself before the flood, and in doing so it’s wrenching. . . . It’s an excellent story that paints a riveting portrait of a man, his city, and his loss.”— on The Naked City

“But the two most remarkable stories in Naked City are by relatively new authors: ‘The Projected Girl’ (Haifa) by Lavie Tidhar and ‘The Way Station’ (New Orleans and St. Petersburg, Florida) by Nathan Ballingrud are both heartbreakers.”—John Clute on Strange Horizons

About the Author

Nathan Ballingrud was born in Massachusetts in 1970 but has spent most of his life in the South. He’s worked as a bartender in New Orleans and a cook on offshore oil rigs. His stories have appeared in several Year’s Best anthologies, and he has twice won the Shirley Jackson Award. His second collection, Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell includes the novella “The Visible Filth” which was filmed by Babak Anvari as Wounds. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his daughter.