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___SHORT SUMMARIES___

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___________________SHORT STORIES_________________

 

"The New Daughter" by John Connolly, published in Nocturnes, Hodder & Stoughton, London, ISBN 0340834587, c.2004.

Connolly writes the neo-noirish, hard-boiled detective series with paranormal twists following slewfoot Charlie "The Bird" Parker. This story proves there's still chills in old-style possession yarns. More classic stuff is found in "The Underbury Witches", and don't miss "The Furnace Room" for contemporary eeriness.

Also, try his novella from 2013, The Wanderer in Unknown Realms.

“Yahuara” by Nicola Griffith, published in Little Deaths, 24 Tales of Sex and Horror , edited by Ellen Datlow, Orion Books UK, ISBN 185798014X, c.1994

Yahuara means a “predator that kills its prey in one bound” (p.128), in this case, a South American jaguar. This is a marvelous, transformative story unfolding in the jungles of Belize around a minor Mayan ruin. The first-person protagonist is a quasi-celebrity going anal over her privacy who decides to hide by photographing a strong-woman, Latina American anthropology professor obsessed with discovering ancient Mayan metamorphosis rituals from mysterious runes outside a small, native village. Dr. Cleis Fernandez does the physical shape-shifting while our female narrator breaks through her own self-feeding fears and defense mechanisms. In the midst of it all, a baby is born. The intellectual melding into the feral perspective is particularily fascinating. After all, “the forest is a siren” (p.149).

"Dancing Men" by Glen Hirshberg, published in The Two Sams, Carroll & Graf, ISBN 0786712554, c.2003

Hirshberg deals with very damaged people, usually children or teenagers, in a very equivocal--and possibly supernatural--manner. In this story, a young boy unwittingly faces the horrors of his heredity, and, while providing clues for unadjusted answers, it also becomes the burden of his life, as the revelation is that "the world won't be yours anymore" (p.162). Also, peruse "Shipwreck Beach" for its phenomenal atmospherics that emulate the inner anguish of its characters. While Hirshberg can be a very intense storyteller, he can also be quite maudlin, as exampled by the title story.

"The Gift" by John Steinbeck, published in The Red Pony, Viking, c.1937

This is the first chapter in an episodic novella, and certainly stand-alone. It is the gut-wrenching story about a boy raising a colt, and, in the process, learning the painful lesson that personal responsibility is absolute, even under the influence of authority figures. Steinbeck exacts emotional payment with every teardrop. If you can take more, follow with chapter four, "The Promise". This is primer for an even tougher curriculm called Of Mice And Men.

"A Little Night Music" by Lucius Shepard, published in Barnacle Bill the Spacer, and Other Stories, Orion, c.1997, story c.1992

I always fall for these stories where the protagonist metamorphizes into something extraordinary, like a shapeshifter or, in this case, a zombie. Here, its music that's the conduit, irrevocably altering the viewpoint as it offers quite a tempting lifestyle away from all the stress and hassle of modern living. Read it while listening to Miles' Bitches Brew.

"The Last Time" by Lucius Shepard, ASAP Publishing, c.1995.

This narrated novella is quite an articulation on the longing of love, but its cant is truly revealed when oozing into the physical melding of it. Again, a deluded guide going utterly mad with cupidity and desire, concluding that "love itself is a form of evil, an emotional plague visited upon dreamers with too little life, whose telltale symptom is the possession of one's will." Author Shepard deftly walks the plank with potions or hallucinations gone bad, depending on which metaphoric mindset you choose.

"The Elf-King" by Elizabeth Hand, published in Last Summer at Mars Hill, HarperPrism TPB, c.1998, story c.1993.

An old-fashioned haunting lushly swept in the visual and audio atmospherics of an aging rock star's fungoid mansion. Re-animating the horrors hidden in ancient children's fables as pounced-upon by the celebratory, '60s youth mesmerized by Warhol's Factory culture of life-as-suicide, the tainted detrius is still veining through the addictions of today. Old horrors apparently never die as long as new victims are offered for feeding.

And, while you're here, don't miss the maudlin but magnificent Snow on Sugar Mountain, girls gone feral in Bacchae, and the haunting mesmerization of the title story, Last Summer at Mars Hill.

"Holes" by Sarah Clemens, published in Little Deaths: 24 Tales of Horror and Sex, edited by Ellen Datlow, Millennium UK, c.1994.

Involving body piercing and tattoos, this is about pain and sex, but not of the S&M variety. It's got spells and hexes, but more about physical abuse standing in for the deeper, more insidious mental torment. If you don't know what an ampallang is, look it up before engaging this story.

"Twilla" by Tom Reamy, published in San Diego Lightfoot Sue & Other Stories, Earthlight Publishers, c.1979.

Horror invariably follows well-worn paths. Within that boundary, this story reads like a movie script in its chosen details, but with a creepy, Bad Seed-like antagonist conjugated to an even worse Summoning that stumps the country folk with its sexually-disemboweling murders. The viewpoint is from that tight-haired, goggled and spinster-ish teacher we all had in the third grade.

"Flashback" and "Dying in Bangkok" by Dan Simmons, published in LoveDeath, Warner Books, c.1993

A creepily-current assessment of economic failure & subsequent reaction of Ostriching with a narcotic to live out life in your past memories. The societal breakdown is scary, but even more so on the individual level.

Dying in Bangkok deals with the ritualization of pleasure into death and is holding horrific hands with Barker's Jacqueline Ess.

"Panorama" by Jason A. Wyckoff, published in Black Horse & Other Strange Stories, Tartarus Press, c.2012.

A very tricky story about Art from the aesthetic of appearance vs. illusion fueled by obsession. Watch for the subtle shift in narrative viewpoint.

"Bobcat" by Rebecca Lee, published in Bobcat & Other Stories, Algonquin TPB, 9781616201739, c.2013

The title story is one of the finest collection of characters eliciting human yet cultural responses I've encountered in a month of new moons. The setting is a dinner party in Manhattan , guested by authors and their publisher, with some attorneys thrown into the mix. But it has nothing to do with their professions; it is about their relationships. Zingers fly like cornered bats throughout the evening.

A woman “so beautiful it was hard to form any other opinions of her”(p.4).

“The city never disappoints . . . It doesn't know what you want, so it tries to give you everything”(p.24).

“'It's kind of a drag for the rest of us when people have children.'

‘It's just that you don't want to use your child as a scythe to break through the forest of received opinion.'

‘That sounds like an okay use of a child,' Lizbet said.”(p.26)

“A single line from the archeologist Ernest Becker often tore through my mind at the end of long meals, that every man stands over a pile of mangled bones and declares life good.”(p.27)

Pain is lurking outside of the read like a radioactive doomcloud. The best example is taken from the title. A woman, Sarah, has written a memoir about her tussle with a bobcat in the Himalayas that mangled her arm to the point of amputation. It is an imaginative embellishment, surely, but it acts as metaphor stalking this crowd with its expense and displacement.

At one point the 1 st person female protagonist—an attorney married to a fiction writer—ruminates about an associate having an affair outside his marriage. She equates his straying to the primitive forces of life, adding that civilization was invented to combat such forces. It is the sentiment of this opinion that makes the disappointments hurt deeper while maintaining an expression of strength. After all, isn't it just life having its way with us, eh?

 

"The Men from Porlock", by Laird Barron, published in The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, Night Shade Books, 1597804673, book c.2013, story c.2011.

This is the author's 3rd collection and his most accessible to date. As stated in my review of his virgin entry, The Imago Sequence, author Barron seemed too obtuse, but this collection hunts in the woods with a little, clearer scope, navigated a century earlier by Blackwood and Machen, adding a big dose of Barker and Ketchum for wide-eyed, heart acceleration.

This story identifies these woods as the Olympic peninsula of Washington state, circa 1920 or so. Our hero was a trench warrior of WWI, now working a freeboot lumber-cutting crew deep in the forest. On a side-bar hunt for deer instead of old growth cedar, a small group discovers a horror so odious it can't be described accurately. What follows is a confrontation with—possibly, maybe, fill-in-your-own-abomination—the Old Ones from HPL's grave. Fortunately, author Barron doesn't step into ecological mud, but keeps his characters gumboot to claw with this inhuman barbarity. The descriptions and verbiage of gypsy logging in treacherous terrain lays just outside the mists of malice to come.

Another kicker is The Siphon, where the salesman protag who is possibly a serial killer—he has a trophy box he fondles when agitated—gets lured into an ancient fiends' chewfest on the dark plains of a Kansas wheat field. It reads like a crime thriller without a caper. Until the demons show up and all the urbane propriety changes into gore galore.

"The Winter's Tale", by Alan Peter Ryan, published in The Back of Beyond, Cemetery Dance, 9781587672477, c.2012

Deconstructed prose, where the monster(s) refuse to stay on the page and are happy roaming around your skull after the words leave. Ryan's stories center on the Unwanted, Unseen, the Passed Over for protagonists both victim and villian. He'll stay within reasonable boundries of credibility, but watch out for the knife in the back as you turn away. He's Old School so treat him with respect.

"The Night We Buried Road Dog", by Jack Cady, published in Nebula Awards 9, ed. Pamela Sargent, 0156001195, c. 1993

Not many stories out there about haunted roads, ghost cars, and the leadfooted angst of boys addicted to acceleration. You'd hafta waterboard me with a bucket of icewater to keep me off these backroads. But not at night, nosiree!

In all of Cady's career (1932-2004) this was his most awarded work. He knew the Northwest (residing in Port Townsend) and he knew cars (LaSalles, Hudsons, and DeSotos) and he knew dogs that stuck their heads out car windows for a whiff of that American pneuma that compel us all along these capricious roads of our lives.

"Out of Touch", by Simon Strantzas, from Nightingale Songs, 9781937128227, c. 2011

The lead-off story from this collection, the author's third. A mournful story about childhood, loss, and the chances handed to us through fate's door. The horror here is existential, and the following stories bear this out in unique ways.

"The Tower", by Mark Samuels, from The Man Who Collected Machen, 9781907681059, c. 2011

The ending story to this fascinating collection is more of a diatribe than a story. It is a specualtion from a recluse searching out meaning in a souless, modern world. It is a reconciliation with ineludible death, but drawn from the most inhospitable, interior hauteur: the ego's goblet, toasting to Pride.

 

Copyright 06/05/2010 by Larry Crawford

 

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