The Darkling Halls of Ivy edited by Lawrence Block
Subterranean Press (May 2020)
328 pages; $50 limited edition hardcover
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand
A life in academia always struck me as a somewhat safe, even enviable career choice. I mean, what could be so bad about a career dedicated to increasing knowledge—your own, and that of others? What could be bad about a workplace where you’re surrounded by books and intelligent colleagues, and you’re encouraged to pursue whatever niche interest catches your eye?
Turns out there’s a lot that can be bad about it.
Lawrence Block has pulled together a stellar lineup of co-conspirators to help him expose the dark, dangerous underbelly of our hallowed institutes of education in The Darkling Halls of Ivy, a new anthology edited by Block and published by Subterranean Press. These halls are filled with students, professors, donors, and deans, many driven to unspeakable acts by the unique pressures that come with pursuing publication, references, and the opposite sex.
David Morrell kicks the anthology off with “Requiem for a Homecoming,” which finds a couple of former classmates carefully circling each other during a college reunion, sharing theories about a long-ago death. Through their tense conversations, Morrell skillfully leads the reader through the plot’s many twists and turns. It’s a perfect tone-setter for the stories that follow.
David Levien pens a standout tale about a young man who, having witnessed unimaginable horrors, finds a way to move his life forward after attending a Sabbath dinner lead by Albert Einstein.
In “The Degree,” Joe R. Lansdale’s character is writing a letter describing the rigorous training and laboratory work he’s undertaking in pursuit of a job with something called the environmental corps. Paragraph by paragraph, he reveals the horrifying nature of the work, hinting at a dystopian world that few could imagine…or survive.
In “With Footnotes and References,” Gar Anthony Haywood’s lead goes after a classmate she’s involved in a paper-for-pay scheme with, only to find out she’s consistently two steps behind in the deal.
The Darkling Halls of Ivy strikes a nice balance of new and established voices, resulting in a solid mix of stories featuring all the backstabbing, tension, jealousy, rage, selfishness, and murderous intent you could ask for. Definitely recommended.