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Gleefully Macabre Tales / Jeff Strand

thgleefully5B15D.jpgDelirium Books / February 2008
Reviewed by: Michele Lee

While many writers strive to establish themselves by spreading their stories as far and wide as possible in the early phases of their careers, there comes a time when writers with some respectable notches on their literary belts wisely create a collection for those readers coming late to the game or those who’ve just missed a few stories along the way. Collections are a perfect opportunity for genre fans to glean bits and pieces of a writer they may have glossed over in a table of contents or bypassed on a bookstore shelf.

Gleefully Macabre Tales, Strand’s first such collection, brings together thirty two of the dark scribe’s stories in a single volume for the first time. Strand's stories are often fast reads, even the longer ones. Generally, the stories contained within fall into one of three main categories.

The first category of stories consists mainly of tales of Strand’s trademark silly and gory variety. Stories such as "Really, Really Ferocious", "A Bite for a Bite" and Strand's infamous losing “Gross Out” tales from the annual World Horror Convention contests are stylistically more slice of life than plot-based. They are the literary equivalent of junk food; they taste good but are essentially empty calories.

At first glance, the second category of Strand's work represented here appears to be much like the first, but upon closer inspection, the reader will find something deeper. "High Stakes", for example, is a story that begins with a man winning a free game on a very special slot machine and ends with a pointedly insightful commentary on human nature. "Sex Potion #147" takes aim at human compulsions by telling the story of a sexually-deprived woman who uses alternative means of attracting partners only to discover that not all people love or lust in the same ways. Not even the obvious negatives of using a gypsy- made sex potion deter her for long.

In the last category, readers will find stories that aren't meant to be funny at all, or use only the slightest touch of humor to draw them into something quite serious. "Special Features" is a story told entirely through dialog that starts as a director's commentary on a movie – one that turns out to be a snuff film. "The Three Little Pigs" is a dark take on the increasingly time-softened fairy tale that harkens back to the Grimm Brothers roots of stories like "The Juniper Tree". Even "Everything Has a Purpose", which starts out in much the same way as some of the more comical tales, hides an ending that is less gallows humor and more profoundly disturbing.

Strand's stories in Gleefully Macabre Tales also run the gamut of genres - from the western-flavored “Them Old West Mutations", in which monstrous cockroaches devastate a town, to the more mainstream "Glimpses", in which the author peeks into a pair of characters' lives and reveals that kids often grow into terrible people. Strand has even included a short script, "Munchies" - the bemusing tale of a cannibal on a blind date - and a story aimed at young adults, “Calling Mr. Potty-Mouth".

Strand's creativity is on full display in stories such as "I Hold the Stick", the tale of a sadistic, narcissistic man who reins over an amusement park ride line, and "Howard Rises Again", a Christmas-themed story featuring a most memorable villain (think iconic 7-11 concession here). Several of the stories included in the collection are true marvels of writing, such as "Wasting Grandpa", a nonstop tale that blends Murphy’s Law and murder, or "The Bad Man in the Blue House", a genuinely creepy tale of stalking and psychosis.

Strand uses the short story format to shock, humor, and terrify his readers. From the sheer meanness of "The Bad Candy House", the tale of a elderly man at war with the neighborhood kids over Halloween pranks, and “Mr. Sensitive", in which a man is punished for his lothario ways with testicular torture, Strand's stories don't just play with words ("Quite A Mess"), pop culture ("Roasting Weenies by Hellfire"), and human behavior ("Abbey's Shriek") - they also play with readers themselves, using them as tools, even to the point of including them in the story ("Brainbugs") or making them work for their terror (as in the interactive decoding tale “Secret Message”).

Gleefully Macabre Tales, a collection likely to achieve cult classic status for good reason, is a must-buy for horror lovers.

Purchase Jeff Strand’s Gleefully Macabre Tales.

Posted on Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 11:56AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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