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The 27th novel from Bentley Little features everything fans have come to expect, although this may be one of his weirder tales.
Real estate agent Daniel Martin thinks back to a summer home his family had built when he was a kid. His father had hired Frank Watkins to do the job, and shortly after completion Daniel and his family's lives were never the same. Not only had Frank done a very poor job, but it led to the deaths of Daniel's parents and his brother.
Today, as an adult, Daniel is seeing signs of Frank's handiwork continuing around the western states of America. Despite vanishing years ago, could Frank still be alive, or worse, could there somehow be more than one of him?
Along with his girlfriend Teri, his childhood neighbor Evan, and a small "ghost hunter" type cable TV show crew by his side, Daniel locates Frank's whereabouts and all hell is (literally) about to break loose.
THE HANDYMAN is inspired by Asian ghost films, reality TV shows (don't worry ... this is nothing like Paul Tremblay's take in A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS), and features all the trademark, macabre situations Little's fans love. The book is told in three parts, the second of which showing the mental and physical damage Frank has done over the years, is quite chilling. The third part, in which our heroes confront Frank (and something far worse) in a place none of them could've ever imagined, should delight any fan of horror that's on the strange side.
I've been saying for years (in light of some of Little's short stories) that he'd surely be able to write an EPIC all-out bizarro novel...but until that day comes, THE HANDYMAN should easily suffice fans of weird horror fiction.
For the hardcore Little fan, this one falls somewhere between his "industrial" novels and his more experimental work, and with all fan boy-ness aside, it's a solid offering from one of the genre's favorites.
(NOTE: As per HFR tradition, Christine Morgan's review will appear in the next issue)
After reading the book’s description I was very much looking forward to it. Grindhouse Press always does a spectacular job of delivering quality tales full of gruesome gore, perverse terror, bizarre action and romance, and tragically unforeseen dilemmas. That, and being familiar with the author’s prior work, it’s safe to say I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, and my expectations for the book to deliver a unique tale were rather high. Hunt delivers the above mentioned qualities and expectations to the reader in the fullest. She tells a gruesomely perverse and unique tale chock-full of impending doom, sadness, sorrow and dread. Not to mention, the author’s ability to write in first person from another sexes POV is not only unbelievably accurate and heartfelt, but also physically and emotionally anatomically correct at all times, down to every last perverted suck, stroke, and premature patch of pubic hair.
Evan Lansing makes a living as a photographer. He photographs unusual birth defects, abnormalities and deformities. After a recent breakup, he moves in with his brother, wife, and their kid, until he feels out of place and unwanted. So, he pitches an idea to go stay at their mother’s cabin in the woods. His brother is too busy miserably trying to keep his snobby wife and daughter happy all the time, he hasn’t been able to finish up the remodeling so they can sell the property. Evan decides he could stay there, do the work for rent, and fix the place up to sell. While working on repairs there’s a lingering sadness on the property, and it only gets stronger when the neighbors are around. Upon first glance, there’s two people living next door. An old violent man and a young, bizarre and perverse teenager. But, later we discover a third and much darker entity. Things for Evan start to make a turn for the worse when the neighbors start visiting and coming around more frequently, even managing to ruin his new-found love with a woman he’d met while photographing her rare birth defects on her hands. Evan begins to question his own sanity and reality as his life begins to spiral out of control. He should’ve never came to his mother’s cabin in the woods. There’s much more than the death of his childhood lingering in the woods around him.
-Jon R. Meyers
THE WARBLERS by Amber Fallon (to be released 9/1/17 by Eraserhead Press / 86 pp / trade paperback)
Bizarro is many things, bizarro can be anything, it is infinite possibilities ... and in this, Amber Fallon's foray into the genre, she demonstrates it can even be subtle and slow-burn. She also demonstrates her range and talent with a piece very different from her previous book, yet equally engrossing.
The setting and era here are never precisely defined, which adds to the subtlety. It feels like rustic midwest America, maybe Dust Bowl / Great Depression; the neighbors have a truck, it's a trip to town to use a phone, a cold soda at the soda fountain is a rare treat.
But it could also be long-haul post-apocalyptic / dystopian, for all of that, with its stark references to the City and the status of being a Military Family. We don't really know, we don't get a big history info-dump. Nor should we. Told as it is, we get just enough to envision it perfectly without needing the bigger picture.
Dell, our POV character, lives with his Ma and Pa and little sister on their farm. He's a good kid, dutiful, hard-working, helps out. When a nest of warblers infest their back shed, he's ready to stand by his Pa to help deal with the menace.
What are Warblers? Again, we don't really know, and for the sake of the story, it doesn't really matter. We get tantalizing bits of description, matter-of-factly done. The warblers just are, and they're there, and they're dangerous. They've got to go.
Thing is, that's easier said than done. Even after a neighbor with a son in the Military -- Nathan, about Dell's age, but no friend, and a budding or blossoming psycho to boot -- offers to try and bring in more rifles, Dell's Pa has another solution in mind. One which everybody else seems to consider a cure worse than the disease.
Pa won't be deterred, though, and sends for something called a Squamate. When it and its handlers show up at the farm, Dell finds himself caught up in the middle of events even weirder than a shedful of Warblers, and has to face his own difficult decisions.
The voice and style here are particularly well-handled, conveying the feel of the setting without descending into overdone dialect caricature. If writing could be sepia-toned, like those Kansas scenes in Wizard of Oz, it'd be like this.
IN THE RIVER by Jeremy Robert Johnson (2017 Lazy Fascist / 140 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
While this novella is certainly not one of my favorite works to date by the author for a couple of reasons (which may even be partially to blame on the version I personally read and the eBook's overall formatting), it surely is very well written, worth checking out, and does possess a couple of great and memorable moments, and it even has a great cause to support the book’s initial release which is relevant to the story’s overall theme, love and loss: “100% of the first month royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Portland’s Homeless Family Solutions to aid them in the difficult work of helping families with children find safety and security during times of struggle.”
The tale takes us on a fishing adventure with a man and his son. The characters are creatively referred to as “the man”, “the boy”, and “the son”, which is well executed to deliver the guts of the overall story that takes place in a forest somewhere where multiple tribes do not necessarily get along with each other, pulling you into the character's emotions as they’re experiencing them firsthand. The father is teaching the boy the ways of survival in the river ... how to catch fish, feed and take care of your family, the stepping stones of a child becoming a man in adulthood. When the son falls victim to an error the father didn’t foresee coming which leads to his son’s death, the man falls victim to the demons in his head, a loss so profound that he questions his own sanity, hope, and will to live. This is where things get more exciting. Upon his interpersonal conflicts, the man goes to great lengths while searching for the boy, a sign of life, questioning and mourning the death of his son all at the same time. (This part of the book almost reads like the world Stephen King created inside the painting the woman found while rebuilding her life without her abusive husband in his book ROSE MADDER). The man fears telling his wife that their child is dead because of him. He questions running away, killing himself, rather than facing the truth. But, sometimes our decisions lead to second chances that make a difference between life and death.
There’s plenty of darkness and magic to be found within the pages of this book.
-Jon R. Meyers
THE BASEMENT SESSIONS by Kevin Bufton (2017 Ice Pick Books / 388 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Flash fiction, like poetry, is one of those forms of writing that impresses and mystifies me. A collection starting off with FIFTY pieces of it, in this book's opening 'Dark Lightning,' makes for a heck of an attention-getter.
They hit in a flurry of quick punches, some haymakers weighing in at a few hundred words, some nerve strikes of only a line or two, and the cumulative effect is to leave the reader reeling and staggering around the ring, seeing stars. These babies pack quite a wallop.
The book then moves on to a selection of longer works, grouped together as "Six of the Best: A Hellish Half-Dozen." They include a couple of diverse takes on the zombie apocalypse, a luchadore with a strange history, a dark fairy tale and a darker (plus brilliant and evil) interpretation of a familiar classic, and a story about tumbleweeds that freaked me all right the heck out because I grew up in the desert and those bastards were everywhere.
In the final section are some previously unpublished pieces, though given the strength of the writing, why they'd been unpublished are a mystery. Many of them are more of Bufton's highly effective flash fiction rabbit-punches, little evil fortune cookies.
'Crack!' is a fun comeuppance tale hearkening to the old EC comics and King's 'Chattery Teeth,' where you know what's going to happen and that only adds to the delight. 'Glory Hole' is similar in the know-what's-going-to-happen department, flinchy and squickworthy and difficult to look away.
There's also a novella, 'Cake,' an ominous foray into cosmic-horror where a small part of the world has been cut off from the rest by inexplicable forces for decades, leaving the survivors to make what society they can. It's a fascinating premise with nifty setting-building; I'd love to see more.
BLACK STATIC no. 59 (Jul-Aug 2017)
This issue's fantastic cover (and some interior) artwork comes courtesy of Richard Wagner, then opening commentaries deal with David Lynch (by Lynda E. Rucker) and Ralph Robert Moore shares how an odd department story experience and a Thomas M. Disch story helped him come up with the opening lines to one of his stories. Rucker and Moore always have something interesting and entertaining to say and their columns have become my favorite part of Black Static.
This issue features seven short stories:
-'When We Are Open Wide' by Kristin DeMeester: Every once in a while a story appears in BS that's a bit more extreme than their usual fare. DeMeester's female coming of age tale really got under my skin with a finale that brought Takishi Miike's great IMPRINT to mind. Excellent and as creepy as it gets.
-Kirsten Koschock's 'The Body is Concentrated Ground,' tells of two sisters who, after living together all their lives, finally figure out how to truly become one. Paging Mr. Cronenberg for a film treatment..
-in 'The Dreaming' by Rosalie Parker, a man leaves his corporate job to fulfill his dream of helping others as a Shaman. But his true nature makes us question if he's even human...
-Damien Angelica Walters' 'Here, Only Sorrow' finds a mother dealing with the death of one of her young sons, while the surviving brother works out a way to keep him alive. A quiet goose-pimpler and a fine study on loss and grief.
-In 'Ghost Town' by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Rae is searching for a body to host her late wife Emily whose spirit visits each night. Emily is determined to make it through the river Styx that borders their town, and Rae finds an unexpected way to accommodate her wife's wishes. The scope of this short dark fantasy goes well beyond it's 4 pages.
-Sarah Read's 'Endoskeletal' features anthropologist Ashley tampering with remains found at an ancient cave burial site. When she is dismissed from further expedition she finds herself drawn back to the cave where she begins to...change. A classic-styled horror romp that stands out among this issue's more gloomy, depressing vibe.
-Lastly, 'To Dance is Feline' by YZ Chin looks at human nature through the eyes of a cat and the cat's mother. Chin's beautiful prose gives this a fairy tale feel and an otherworldly edge. I'm looking forward to more from her.
I sometimes skim Peter Tennant's author interviews, but this issue's chat with Gwendolyn Kiste was quite good (her upbringing will surely sound familiar to most horror fans). His review of her collection 'And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe' caused me to order it before I was halfway through it. Then there are in depth reviews of a four-book kaiju series from Apokrupha, two collections from Joyce Carol Oates, and six more novel reviews including the latest from Erica Ferenick and Catriona Ward. How on earth Tennant reads so much continually boggles my mind, but his reviews are among the best in the business.
Finally, Gary Couzen's latest crop of bluray/DVD reviews features a look at the Arrow releases of the Argento classic 'The Bird With the Crystal Plumage' and Frank Hennenlotter's 'Brain Damage.' 17 reviews in all, and while Couzen's synopsis' are informative without spoiling things for first timers, I'd like to see more info on the extras some of these deluxe blurays offer.
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