Entries Tagged 'Short Stories' ↓

The Man on the Ceiling: a Horror Reader Exclusive Review

Temmanonceiling The names Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem should not be unfamiliar to readers of dark fiction. For those few for whom these names are strangers, this Horror Reader certainly recommends immediate correction. Though I've long been more a fan of the Tems' short fiction than their longer works, this latest book (an expansion upon their multiple award winning, collaborative novella The Man on the Ceiling) has quickly rocketed to the top of my list of  Tem pieces. It is a marvel to read, insightful and informative. However, one enormous question lingers for this reviewer after finishing the work:  just what the hell is it?

The authors themselves dub it a biography of the imagination, and this acts as a pretty good encapsulation. However, while evocative, it does not really allow a beleaguered reviewer such as myself to find the proper box to check, the proper category to file this under.  Pity the uninformed reader relying on this reviewer's words (I suppose there might be one such being in the world; leave me my dreams, will you?), who might remain clueless as to the many faceted treasure that lays between this work's covers. Let me flounder for a spell, and perhaps my fellow Horror Readers might understand my difficulty.

While The Man on the Ceiling features its titular character "in the flesh" so to speak, and while he is something ghastly, this is not a horror novel. And while the book attempts to capture both the "authors" (for the narrators of this particular story are Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem, but are these the real deal or fictional creations-- ala J.G. Ballard? While the phrase "Everything we tell you is true" is repeated quite often here, this is by no means the literal truth.  It's a truth of a completely different sort, that of delicious verisimilitude) as individuals and as components of a "nontraditional" family, the book is not quite a memoir (fact and fantasy interweave without mercy, dropping the reader into a world far too wonderful, far too awful, and far too honest to be the everyday real world). While there are plenty of snippets of short fiction, this is no collection. These short stories do not really stand as well on their own as they do amongst the details in the rest of the work; less short stories than parasitic anecdotes, perhaps. While advice to prospective writers abounds, this is no mere "How To Git (sic) Published" volume. Where the narrators offer plentiful meditations upon the value and importance of story (again, as a vessel of truth), this is by no means the sole of wit and thought on display.  As with Whitman, this sucker is vast.  It contains multitudes...

Has this reviewer made plain the difficulty? Just what am I supposed to file this under?

Why nothing and everything, of course, and that's what makes a work like The Man on the Ceiling truly excel. It is actually sui generis. It is beyond genre and yet built from genre. A curious puzzle, engaging in its emotional honesty and clear voices. Indeed, there are two distinct voices to be found here. Alternating passages are written from Melanie and Steve's perspectives and each manages to share levels of intimacy often reserved for good poetry.

Through the manifold aspects, we find several recurring themes.  The importance of accepting responsibility, enduring the worst hardships, and attempts to define what a family actually means.  In this book, the family is composed of the Tems and their several adopted children (as well as parents and, eventually, grandchildren). While many joys have visited this family, so has tragedy. One of their sons committed suicide (Or did he? Was it some kind of convoluted accident? Could it have been prevented? These and other, deeper questions haunt the narrators, particularly since those narrators have the sort of minds that come up with those worst case scenarios called horror fiction). From this starting place, the novel then explores truly fascinating avenues, plumbing the depths of all those subjects I indicated above (and quite a few more) in a sometimes surreal, often hypnotic fashion (and bonus points for invoking that quirky mathematical term asymptotic!), but always, always returning to the concept of family. If this sounds suddenly unappealing, let this reader assure you:  The Man on the Ceiling deals with this topic in a classy fashion, deftly avoiding the clichéd, saccharine idealizations dominating our culture. Perhaps you are familiar with the sticky sweet model found somewhere between the Hallmark Card aisle and the latest Hollywood/Lifetime Channel tearjerker. My family shares little similarity to the type those tearjerkers champion, and while my family is certainly not like the one presented in this book, there are more elements from the Tems' account that I empathize with. As writer, as thinker, as son, as grandson, as husband.

Yet there is real horror to be found here. Not the safely removed sort, but the kind that crawls down your throat and sets to breeding inside your belly. The sort that all the best dark fiction authors regularly strive to evoke. These successes come not from producing simple entertainment, but from tapping into something far deeper in the subconscious, those uncomfortable levels of unflinching emotional honesty. In the murky depths of this honest place, fiction can become truly disturbing, striking a chord in the reader and transforming empathy into something altogether undesirable. There are several moments of purest nightmare in The Man on the Ceiling, more than I expected to find from the rather casual tone, in fact. Much to my delighted (and disturbed) surprise.  Open this book if you dare, and find something truly unique.

The Man on the Ceiling by Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem
384 pages
Wizards of the Coast Discoveries
Release: March 2008

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Crazy Little Things: a Horror Reader exclusive review

Knavecrazylittlethings An unexpected presence disrupts a beauty pageant, a teddy bear comes to realize (and hate) that his boy has grown up and apart, the dead walk several times (first to march against a clerk and his store, then again to take over the West, and once more to shamble into a modern representation of a classic love story), a faerie assassin takes on the job that just might kill him, and the four fuzzy hosts of a children's television show prove to be truly nightmarish... These and more await readers in the pages of Adam P. Knave's first collection of short fiction, Crazy Little Things.

The preface (from Laszlo Xalieri) starts the collection off with the tongue planted firmly in cheek, and this is continued through the Travis Ingram Introduction (which wittily ventures from a manufactured 'Nam recollection to The A-Team on acid). This double dose of edgy humor should prove no surprise to those familiar with this author's writing, which works best when it evokes a sense of playful lunacy.

Adam P. Knave has made regular appearances in the small press, including such anthologies as Bad Ass Faeries, Dark Furies (also from Die Monster Die), and Cthulhu Sex magazine (unfortunately, now deceased). Here readers will discover some of his highlights from his many appearances as well as a trio of previously unpublished pieces. Essentially, this collection offers is a sort of photo album of the "young" writer in development, with all the ambitions, successes and shortcomings on display.

Reading straight through reveals quite a few of the author's literary obsessions as the fiction continually returns to themes of objectification, sanity, the sin of selfishness, and the virtue of loyalty, without sacrificing an entertaining story.  For example, while "Pretty Little Dead Girls" is, ostensibly a ghost story set in the cutthroat world of young girl beauty pageants, the real horror comes not from the supernatural presence (which is presented, to the contrary, as something quite poignant and beautiful), but through the activities of the parental figures and the adults involved. Every decision made by the figures of authority are as damning as the best of Tales From the Crypt.   Events build to a truly savage climax and disturbing denouement, which are made palatable through the author's use of understatement. This theme of the mishandling of authority by adults is then revisited in "After These Messages..."  While certainly effective as a satiric jab at children's entertainment, this tale also presents a different side to the view of children as tools/victims of our consumer culture, this time in the form of both corporate interests and the monstrous beings serving those interests (and their own depraved appetites).

This reader found himself responding quite positively to the levels of ambition in this collection. Even the tales revolving around (that inescapable horror staple) the living dead ("Meat," "High Noon of the Living Dead," "Flesh Wounds" and "Dead Side Story") are not content to tell simple gut chomping anecdotes. They pose questions about friendship, identity, love, and other topics. Two of these combine the classic form of the horror tale with another genre altogether (western/tall tales for one, and tragic romance/Shakespearian drama for the other). Reading the stories, one cannot help but notice the author attempting to shove his literary elbows out of the "traditional horror yarn" box. While this is accomplished with varying degrees of success, the ambition is nice to behold in a genre that suffers from the criticism of relative stasis over the last ninety years.

This is not to suggest that each of these stories is a gem for the ages. The author is developing his craft, and that improvement can be witnessed over the course of these stories. However, the literary warts (so the speak) are still on display. Dialogue sometimes suffers from either a clunky quality or from an overuse of vulgarity. Not to suggest that this reader is somehow beyond profanity in either life or writing. However, the short story needs to make every word count. Therefore, should an author use (in one story) levels of profanity comparable to about half a season of Deadwood, then that author should do so in a way that contributes to character, theme, story, etc. This seemed not always to be the case. In fact, that observation leads to the most often recurring mistake perpetrated in this collection: there is an overabundance of fat amongst these tales. A few of the tales start early, offering unnecessary exposition, while others seem overly burdened in the middle stretches. A more judicious use of word sanding would serve to tighten this prose.

That said, the stories in Crazy Little Things find budding author Adam P. Knave at his best, offering readers a taste of literary cyanide served with a grin, much in keeping with the spirit of the late, great Robert Bloch. This reader is curious to see what the author will offer up next.

Crazy Little Things by Adam P. Knave
265 pages
Die Monster Die Books
Projected Released Date:  March 2008

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