Jun 14, 2010

Monkey Droppings - two short (and sweet) tales of death

Today, the Monkey fights his innate timidity and delves into a duet of terrors both subtle and gross.

Mind you, these are rather offbeat terrors, so the worry of night screams is diminished somewhat.

These'll be quick reviews, but heartfelt.

One Bloody Thing After Another
by Joey Comeau (2010)
There's something a little spooky about the girls, but Charlie can't put his finger on it. Everything's spooky these days. A headless woman in the lobby, haunting them from beyond the grave. A creepy little girl isn't going to make much difference.
Scary stories are not for everyone, neither as a listener nor a teller. Some people don't know how to handle being scared. Some people don't know how to scare.

Joey Comeau does not know how to scare. The writer of the wonderful web comic A Softer World and the absurdist storytelling of Overqualified does not, in his 'horror' novel One Bloody Thing After Another, scare the reader. Unsettles, yes, but never scares.

This may sound like a negative, but it isn't meant as such, because Comeau - despite crafting a story filled with monsters, death, and one absolute corker of a scene involving kittens and a baby - isn't out to scare. What he is out to do isn't exactly clear, but as One Bloody Thing After Another has stayed with me for days, I'm going to call it a triumph, albeit a goofy and off-kilter one.

Throughout the pages of Comeau's short narrative, we are introduced to several characters. There's Charlie and his elderly dog Mitchie, both being haunted by a headless apparition - "The ghost takes a shaking step toward them. She's off balance, not that Charlie could blame her. Having your head cut off would certainly affect your equilibrium." There's Amy, troubled by an uncertain relationship with her friend Jackie, and nearly unhinged by having a zombie mother chained up in her bedroom. And there's Jackie, an unbalanced young woman who may be able to communicate with the dead, perhaps because of some prenatal disturbances; "You know how mothers play Mozart against their bellies during pregnancy? Jackie's mom went around swinging a tire iron, bashing headlights in the street all night, belly enormous. Who else could say their mother had been in a riot while pregnant?"

Like Andrew Kaufman's similar (in tone) All My Friends are Superheroes, Bloody is a sneaky beast, content to let the reader parse out the story from glimpses and hints. Comeau is not out to write a horror novel per se. He's far more interested in presenting little snippets of tales, letting his unique voice weave his fables together in a method designed to subtly dislodge the reader from the limitations of conventional storytelling and simply let Comeau's mix of sly humour and genuine unease co-mingle in the brain. Comeau's story is weird in the best definition of the word, melancholy, disturbing, and unexpectedly uplifting. I can't say that One Bloody Thing After Another is a perfect novel, but in its own gentle, meandering way, it is perfectly wonderful.


The Thief of Broken Toys
by Tim Lebbon (2010)
Now, every day is the last day of the past.
First off, let me say that ChiZine may well be my new favourite genre publisher. For such a new company, there track record is already stellar, as Lavie Tidhar's and Nir Yaniv's The Tel Aviv Dossier is an expert piece of theological lovecraftian weirdness, and Douglas Smith's Chimerascope is an absolutely stunning short story collection of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, one of the best I've ever read.

Tim Lebbon's The Thief of Broken Toys continues the streak. The English horror writer has penned a deeply affecting ode to loss and loneliness, wrapping it in a fantastical riddle that makes the heart ache.

Lebbon's novella sets itself in the scenic seaside town of Skentipple, where we find Ray, a man without a reason to live. His son Toby has died, his wife has left him, and Ray, like most grieving parents, spends most of his time alone and unwilling to grasp the enormity of what has happened. All he has are his memories, which suffuse his being to the point that Ray isn't much more than a walking tragedy.

Into this, Lebbon injects an element of magical realism in the form of a strange old man who takes an interest in Toby's old toys. I don't want to give too much away (the novella is not that long), so suffice to say, there is a price to be paid for everything, including finding a way out of grief.

I've never read any of Lebbon's other writings, but if Thief is any indication, he is a master at evoking mood and atmosphere. There is a rough-hewn yearning that permeates every sentence, a sense of foreboding that magnifies every action. Lebbon knows that grief both dulls and enhances every moment of life, but he's wise enough to keep his tale brief. Were this story to expand to the length of an average novel, the pain would be well-nigh excruciating.

The Thief of Broken Toys is far more of a mood piece than a horror story, and where there is horror, it is of the more cerebral variety. This is the horror of loss and memory, and the horror of recovery. As Lebbon's fable wends it's way to a close and the importance of grief is made apparent, it is clear that he's a writer of vast talents and sublime emotional wisdom.



Scott said...

I really liked "One Bloody Thing", too. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but figured it to be a little off-kilter (like you said). What I got was much better then expected.

I can only hope Mr. Comeau continues to write.

Steve Vernon said...

ChiZine Publications is definitely a Canadian publisher to watch for!

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