"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Monday, August 29, 2022

Stranger Paranormal by John Olsen (2022)

Stranger Paranormal by John Olsen (2022) is the sixth in his Stranger Bridgerland books series. Each volume contains stories based on first-hand interviews Olsen has conducted with experiencers themselves. I have read and reviewed the previous five books as they appeared, and I can say with confidence that Stranger Paranormal is the strongest collection yet.

My interest in this material is based on a life-long passion for strange fiction, particularly the stories of writers Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen. In Olsen's books, there is a similar frisson. Though Olsen is reporting real stories by everyday people who have crossed paths with the uncanny, there is a real congruence.

Stranger Paranormal leads off with "Doppelganger," by Kent. An engineer, Kent describes working late and alone at his plant. He hears an insistent voice from the office next door: "Kent…… Kent…… come help me, Kent."

In "The Belmore Ghost," contractor Jaxon has a late-night encounter on a lonely back road when he stays too late at a job site. Sadly for Jaxon, his encounter is with something not as pleasant as a vanishing hitchhiker. 

After these two stories where men are driven to extremes of terror, Anthony's experience as a part-time cemetary "Caretaker" is a well-judged change of pace by Olsen. Anthony says, "I've been working there for eight years now and love the work and the feeling of caretaking for the city's loved ones." The guy's dignity and probity shine through; his two spectral encounters are eloquently told.

Stranger Paranormal takes the reader through many western states, as well as Florida. A Montana ghost town shows a transplanted California teenager more than he bargained for. A father and son fishing in British Columbia realize they are being watched by a dog man. Four friends at a cabin in northern Minnesota surprise a sasquatch as it pays a midnight visit to their trash cans. Hikers exploring an abandoned mine near the Utah-Nevada border meet its non-human tennant. And "The White Stalker" features a titular figure that seems to be the subject of Jaroslav Panuška's 1901 painting "Death Looking into the Window of One Dying" brought to life.

My choice, though, for the most unsettling story in Stranger Paranormal is Kurk's encounters with "The Dark Pacer." Just outside a tiny rural town in western Kentucky, across the road from his parents' porch, Kurk grew up watching a large dark figure pacing the treeline at dusk. The encounters he and his younger siblings experienced are hair-raising.

Stranger Paranormal is filled with stories from people who never thought of cashing-in, or making paranormal media spectacles of themselves online. Their plain-spoken accounts, expertly reported by John Olsen, demonstrate again the old truism that life is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.


29 August 2022

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