SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER by Thomas Ligotti (Carroll & Graf: $17.95; 275 pp.) . In the last of these 20 horror stories, Thomas Ligotti describes its anti-hero this way: "Victor Keirion belonged to that wretched sect of souls who believe that the only value of this world lies in its power--at certain times--to suggest another world."
This is an idea that whispers or bellows throughout "Songs From a Dead Dreamer." A Renaissance swordsman, an American vampire, a children's author, a serial child killer, a lecturing "Dr. Nobody," members of secret societies, outcasts in lonely rooms and surreal cityscapes, the administrator of an asylum who tries not to cure the mentally ill but to drive them even crazier--all are drawn, willingly or unwillingly, to a world of "ultimate insanity" where the terror of the human condition can and must be faced.
Mystics tell us that the other world is a paradise. Ligotti, who built his reputation in little magazines such as Nyctalops and Crypt of Cthulhu, is an anti-mystic who tells us that the other world is merely true: "The only real thing is horror." Images of dolls and puppets recur; malign forces pull people's strings. Deluded by art and culture (symbolized by the hypnotist with "labyrinthine eyes" who narrates one story), we dance with a rotting corpse while embracing what we call "reality"--the fiction that it is a beautiful woman.