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Blood Splattered and Politically Incorrect / Del James, Brian Keene, Thomas F. Monteleone and Lee Thomas

Cemetery Dance / December 2010
Reviewed by: Daniel R. Robichaud

Cemetery Dance Publications' Blood Splattered and Politically Incorrect is a chapbook anthology of four short stories. This saddle stapled volume comes as a signed edition limited to 750 copies. As the title suggests, the contents employ potentially offensive themes and situations — its stories wants to upset you, and therein lays the potential pitfall.

Shock alone has a short shelf life before it becomes rather boring. Tales that intend to offend need to work double hard to engage their readers. After all, a story that doesn't entertain is not going to hold the reader long enough to draw them through to the punch line. Blood Splattered and Politically Incorrect is typical for an anthology, in that some stories succeed better than others.

The opening piece is Del James' "Sick Puppy." James is the author of The Language of Fear collection, originally released in the 1990s under Dell Books' Abyss imprint. His most well-known piece is probably "Without You," cited as the inspiration for the Guns N Roses' "November Rain" music video. James' works are concerned with the same themes and subjects as the original splatterpunks; they present fast paced, urban horror stories peopled with social outliers — punks, wastrels, and the downtrodden. "Sick Puppy" is firmly rooted in this tradition. It relates the many failings and setbacks of a nameless, diseased, junkie narrator. Though it begins on the ugly, realistic side of life, it soon delves into the supernatural, when a drug trip preludes a horrific encounter. After this, the narrator receives horrible power, and spends the remaining story discovering its limits and uses.

"Sick Puppy" is delivered with a raw, often unfocused style. It bounces between wildly divergent topics, offering up voluminous research atop a thin plot. While this builds a decent sense of the uncertain world and times the character lives in, this reviewer found very little insight into the narrator himself. The piece is all surface, little depth, so when it delves into the realm of bloodletting and shocking horror, it is unsuccessful at stirring the emotions. The ending is meant to resonate, and yet it leaves me wondering just who this story is intended for. The piece is told first person, but why are we hearing it? While the story has a few moments worth visiting – particularly the opening sequence, which offers the single instance of empathy for its protagonist when he watches the televised images of the 747s destroying the Twin Towers on 9/11 – "Sick Puppy" never really gels into a memorable story.

Brian Keene's "A Revolution of One" is pure rant. Its unnamed, first person narrator makes gleeful attacks on whitebread America's proclivity for banality and passivity. The piece's structure is deceptively simple, repeatedly delivering a "This Is Why You Fail, but I Succeed" argument, which builds to a world changing revelation.

Keene began his career with confrontational message board antics, blog posts, and prose (e.g. 2002's Talking Smack), and "A Revolution of One" reveals the years have not tempered his rancor but have honed his ability to deliver it. Though this piece is not quite a story in the traditional sense – there's no real plotting involved, unless one makes the stretch that the reader is intended to be the protagonist, and the narrator the antagonist (or vice versa) – it still held my attention. This is a neat trick since the "you" the "I" talks to is about as far removed from me as possible. Brevity is a saving grace here. As anyone who has suffered a message board flamewar knows, if left to go on too long, a rant grows tiresome. "A Revolution of One" knows when to stop, and it does. While it might not satisfy everyone, I found it an entertaining way to kill a couple of minutes.

Thomas F. Monteleone's "Real Gun Control is Hitting What You Aim At" targets Rowe Carlin, an advocate for gun control, affirmative action, school vouchers, etcetera, etcetera. This journalist soon discovers his liberal beliefs put to the test when an intruder breaks into his house. What follows is a gruesome comedy of errors, wherein Mr. Carlin finds himself drowning in trouble until he arrives at the not-unexpected ending.

This piece aims to deliver a tongue-in-cheek assault against hypocritical pundits. Unfortunately, the protagonist falls into the too-stupid-to-live category, so the conclusion lacks any real punch. Were Carlin an actual character instead of a straw man caricature capering as the plot-engine demands, this piece might have had some real bite to it. Alas, its teeth have been pulled.

With "Testify," Lee Thomas delivers a powerful piece about hypocrisy and homophobia. It begins with a corpse in an Austin apartment, and then delivers the back story. At the heart of this tale are Reverend Robert Wright, a well known anti-gay religious leader (modeled in no small part after Fred Phelps), and his lover Jimmy "Angel" Royce. When Wright's relationship comes to light, it ignites a storm of controversy, building to murder.

Instead of providing a single viewpoint character, "Testify" presents all its information through over twenty sources, including social media updates, personal statements, newspaper quotes, and other documentation. The result is akin to flipping through a well-made scrapbook, which pulls a coherent story from disparate material. "Testify" is a jigsaw puzzle of inconsistent viewpoints and opinions, recalling such compelling crime fiction mosaics as Jim Thompson's The Criminal and The Kill-Off. Perhaps its finest success is in asking interesting questions that linger after the entertainment is done. Thoughtful and compelling, "Testify" is the standout piece in this anthology.

Shock fans looking for sizzle will find something to enjoy in each of the pieces. Those readers eager for strong storytelling will likely be less satisfied with Blood Splattered & Politically Incorrect. Then again, this anthology knows its preferred audience — the title doubles as a warning label.

Purchase Blood Splattered and Politically Incorrect, with stories by Del James, Brian Keene, Thomas F. Monteleone, and Lee Thomas.

Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 02:01PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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