A review of The Devil's Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger
I’m very strange with my preferences, I admit this. I like things horrific, but not extreme. I like historical fiction, but it needs to have some bite. I like poetry, but I need it dark in nature, with words that drip and cadence that flows.
So when I discovered The Devil’s Dreamland by Sara Tantlinger, I died. I have been obsessed with the demonic maniac that is H.H. Holmes for a long time (and yes, I also died when American Horror Story decided to play off him for Hotel), indulging in several books about him, including Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. So to discover a poetry book centered around him was mind blowing in itself. But Tantlinger’s prose?
I am still blown away.
I finished The Devil’s Dreamland in two nights and was so impressed, I had to read it again, simply to savor every perfectly placed word. She starts the book with poems of young Herman Webster Mudgett as he slowly unravels into the infamous serial killer we know today. Dipping into perspectives such as his mother,
“...but when I sleep, with my fingers
steeped over my swollen belly
during the muteness of the night
I dream of falling into warmth,
metallic and thick...”
“...in all my years of sawing, cutting, scraping
at the oozing husk of a dead body,
I’ve never seen a man smile
as he severs the body...”
all the way to his landlord,
“Young medical student, what do you keep
Beneath the bed where I must sweep?”
Tantlinger artfully paints tension, building anxiety in her readers who are fully aware that these experiences lead up to monstrous legacy that H. H. Holmes leaves behind. She enters into several other perspectives during the build, but where Sara truly shines is when she jumps into the head of the monster himself, allowing his depraved words to spill out in her prose. She is able to flawlessly generate the sufficient dread horror writers often fail to produce when entering the mind of a madman - even tying in other historical monsters in the process:
“...At this stillborn, chilled moment
H.H. Holmes hears
Backward whispers slithering
into his small ears
You can do better...”
Folks, I loved every damn moment of reading this collection.
In fact, I struggle not to give you more. I hope you will discover on your own just how amazing this collection is. I’ve never quite experienced such an masterfully written and constructed culmination of horror-inspired poetry - and I write horror-inspired poetry!
I’m also not alone: Sara has earned a Bram Stoker Award for The Devil’s Dreamland, and has several other noteworthy horror works in her repertoire. To say I'm excited to discover more from this author is an understatement.
Get your own copy of The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger wherever books are sold. To learn more about her and discover her other works, visit her website at: www.saratantlinger.com