|HORROR / THRILLER|
Recently, a friend gave me a compilation CD he'd made. On that CD was pretty much everything that the group RADIOHEAD had ever played, strung one after the other. Literally hours of music. What does that have to do with DENYING DEATH? I'll tell you. After listening to that much RADIOHEAD, I had reached that mental state where the thought of wandering outside and slitting my wrists was whimsical. I found myself near that level of depression where there isn't any more room to pour in the sorrow, and couldn't quite bring myself to reach over and make it stop by hitting pause, or ejecting the infernal CD altogether.
What I'm saying is that DENYING DEATH is not a happy book. As the title suggests, this collection deals in a number of ways with death, family trial, characters dealing poorly with, or ignoring altogether, their own state of death. Do not read this book if you are prone to fits of depression. Do not read this book near holidays, or while listening to Billie Holiday or RADIOHEAD. But . . . if you are a fan of horror, and want to be entertained by three of the fresher new voices in the genre, by all means, read this book.
The collection consists of several stories that are collaborations between different pairings of the three authors, and a supporting cast of solo stories by each. The quality of the stories varies, but the overall theme hovers in the air between pages and draws you in again and again.
We start with Seth Lindberg's FATALE - a story about death denied, to be sure. This is not one of the stronger pieces in the book. Written in first person, present tense it is a little long-winded and stilted, spending a lot of time on philosophizing, and not enough on action. Still an interesting twist.
This is followed
by Brett Savory's SILICA. This is a haunting piece about loss and madness
- the loss of a child, to be exact, and how it tears down the walls of
a relationship. Again, though, there as in the first piece by Lindberg,
this story has some elements that seem forced, chief among them the pounding
home of the name in the stories title, SILICA. I think this weakens the
tale to make a clever literary point which doesn't quite come off.
GONE IS THE WIND, by Gary Conner, is next into the breach. This is a surreal story of introspection and warped imagery that is reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce and Owl's Creek Bridge. I won't go into detail, because the ending is worth the wait. This is one of the stronger pieces in the book, tight and intense from start to finish.
Moving along, we hit the second collaborative piece of the book - BEYOND THE BLACK, by Gary Conner and Brett Savory. Again, we have physical manifestation of denied death, family members back from the grave, insinuating themselves into an already dysfunctional situation. This is an interesting piece, and explores some familial relationships at depths decent society would not encounter. The dead character, though, doesn't work as well as he might, and though the characters are painted solidly enough, the suspension of disbelief necessary to take this story on the serious level it is intended is somewhat lacking, though for lovers of zombie fiction, this one might just be the ticket.
Brett Savory's ANNIVERSARY OF AN UNINTERESTING EVENT is next, and this is one of the tightest, most compelling pieces in the book. The players are a boy, and his father, though this isn't initially obvious. The twists of psyche and words are precise, and work beautifully. Savory's prose is both haunting and compelling, and the images of this story will stick with you.
WALKING - another collaboration between Lindberg and Savory, is an experimental piece with a lot of introspection on the part of the protagonist, but is not long on plot. The descriptions are vivid, and you can feel what this "walker" feels as he passes through the time-frame of the story, but the ending is a bit ambiguous, as are many stylistic pieces, and may leave the story purist wishing for tighter resolution.
Seth Lindberg cuts loose in the pages of DEAD ANNIE'S SONG - a story of a band, not quite making it in the world of music, not quite failing, with a good song that is cursed, and a good Beatles cover song that they hate. The main character draws you into his world and the strange relationship, almost vampiric on both sides, that he forms with a girl who begins to show up at their shows - right after they quit playing Dead Annie's Song and start playing Eleanor Rigby. This is one of the top stories in the collection, and would be well worth the cover price on its own. It's a long story, but Lindberg uses every page to good advantage.
THE COLLECTIVE, Brett Savory's final addition to the collection, is a surreal monologue - again, first person present tense. This time it works better, but don't expect to fall in love with the protagonist. Imagine a character with a gun in his mouth and you wish the off-screen character would blow his fucking head off so you didn't have to hear more about him and yet it's like a train wreck. The images here are powerful and more refined than in the earlier piece that attempts this particular voice. Another strong entry.
The final story in the collection is Seth Lindberg's SPIRITS OF ABSOLUTION. This is a wonderful take on what might happen if you tried too hard to meet angels, and the characters are brilliant - themselves, and not, moving through a world of contradictions toward the explanation of who and what and why they are. This is a wonderful story, and a great conclusion to what I consider a strong collection by three talented young authors.
I say strong collection because, in these times, an anthology that has three stories I like in it becomes a "strong" anthology, and since this book, short as it is, contains a good number of stories that will stick with me far beyond the reading, I consider that an accomplishment. Just don't read it too drunk, or too down, and be thankful it doesn't come with strychnine tablets or razor blades.
This review copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.