July Mourns: On the Passing of Tom Piccirilli

While I was at Readercon this past weekend, I heard the sad news that writer Tom Piccirilli had lost his fight against a recurrence of brain cancer.  He was fifty.  Like so many others who have taken to the internet to mourn his passing, I didn’t know Tom, personally.  That I remember, we corresponded once.  Like so many more, I knew Tom through his work.  And even as I mourn his passing, I’m struck by the accomplishment of that work.  Had he written only his 2003 novel, A Choir of Ill Children, his achievement would be secure.  The book is one that handily demolishes the cliche that horror can’t be written at novel length.  Tom followed the book with a series of novels that shuttle back and forth between horror and noir, as well as a host of shorter works that chart the same, shadowy territory.  It was one of these later works, his novella Every Shallow Cut (2011), that prompted our correspondence.  Bowled over by the story’s dark, relentless brilliance, I sent Tom an effusive e-mail, to which he replied in calmer fashion.  Years later, though, Every Shallow Cut continues to strike me as that overused word, a classic.

At Readercon, the annual Shirley Jackson Awards were announced.  It’s somewhat shocking to think that Jackson died at the age of forty-eight, so profound has her impact been on the fiction that’s followed her.  Reflecting on what seems to me the fundamental unfairness, the outrageousness, of Tom Piccirilli’s death, I also think of the writers to come, who will arrive at the shores of his work, and drink deeply of it, and carry it away with them, their eyes dark and shining.

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