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Waiting For October / Edited by Bill Breedlove

thWaitingForOctoberCover.jpgDark Arts Books / April 2007
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

In his uneven introduction to Waiting for October, editor Bill Breedlove pledges that this anthology from promising new small press publisher Dark Arts Books doesn’t boast any of the usual horror suspects and, instead, offers up “very disturbing tales that showcase the full range of what constitutes a horror story.” While this reviewer isn’t sure that the twelve stories here – three each from authors Jeff Strand, Adam Pepper, Sarah Pinborough, and Jeffrey Thomas, respectively – show the genre’s all-encompassing range, Breedlove hits the mark with his “disturbing” description.

Jeff Strand’s humor-tinged horror brand is a fitting kickoff for an anthology promising oddity, and one wonders if the author writes with his tongue literally planted in cheek. Up first is the squirm-inducing “Gramma’s Corpse”, in which Strand offers up a twisted and downright ghoulish variation on the idea of parental discipline. This one comes complete with a deliciously macabre Creepshow-style ending. An elderly widower declares war on the neighborhood trick-or-treating army in the Halloween-themed “Bad Candy House”, in which Strand shows the darker lengths people will go when pushed just far enough. In his third offering, Strand uses a variation on the first-person POV to tell the story of a bizarre diner massacre that may or may not have actually occurred in the appropriately-titled “Here’s What Happened…” The attention deficit disorder-like, one-sided conversation device could play gimmicky elsewhere, but the edgy narrative perspective seems especially well-suited for Strand’s unique brand of storytelling here.

Unlike the better known Strand, with whom one knows what they’re getting, Adam Pepper is an exercise in dichotomy. “The Admirer” starts off his trio of contributions weakly, with a baffling two and a half-page story of obsession populated by personified inanimate objects – including a tree, a trash can, and a window - and sixteen exclamation points (!). Unfavorable first impressions aside, Pepper comes through commendably with the strongest offering of the entire anthology with “Buried a Man I Hated There”, in which a grieving father makes an annual pilgrimage to the site of his family’s death. Subtle, beautifully layered, and written in shades of melancholy, “Buried” is a remarkable achievement in short fiction and haunts long after the last word. In “Old Maid Syndrome”, Pepper admirably tackles a female POV with mixed results. While at times spot-on with his female characters (as at the beginning of the story when two longtime BFF’s are having a phone conversation about a third friend’s impending marriage), Pepper misfires at other times like when his adult first-person narrator has this schoolgirl-ish observation when meeting a potential suitor for the first time:

Emmanuel extended his hand and when I touched it, I think I melted. He was so warm and firm, yet gentle at the same time. He kissed the top of my palm lightly, without puckering or leaving an wetness. Me on the other hand felt moisture between my legs and under my arms instantly.

Ultimately, Pepper’s twisted tale of organ thievery suffers when his solid set-up deteriorates into a raunchy, one-note ending. Placement of a story in an anthology is key, and Pepper would have been better served had Breedlove saved the far superior “Buried” for last.

The UK’s Sarah Pinborough brings her own sense of the peculiar to her triple play, proving that she can ably match the weird quotient of her male counterparts. “Express Delivery”, a cautionary cloning tale meets The Sopranos, is a story of debt repayment and second (and third) chances infused with an insightful commentary on the dangers when escapism tips the scales of reality. In “The Fear”, Pinborough confronts the insecurities of writers and explores the career polarities between selling out and vision when an alcoholic writer finds himself caught in a looping reality with the devil. With its decidedly 1408 vibe, Pinborough ably demonstrates that good things can sometimes come in the smallest of packages – here in about 4 ½ pages. Pinborough next channels her inner Brian Keene in “Crystal Carla”, a gory, meth-fueled zombie yarn. Tables are turned on a drug dealer in this mosquito-swatting swampland tale of one junkie’s ultimate revenge from beyond the grave. Guaranteed to raise the squirm quotient exponentially.

Jeffrey Thomas closes the collection strongly with three of the most inventive offerings. In “The Hosts”, children are overcome by thought and behavior-controlling parasites. What first appears to be an effective Village of the Damned meets The Puppet Masters/Night of the Creeps hybrid, however, soon turns out to be a poignant and perceptive observation on the resiliency of parents coping with special needs children. “Adoration”, another standout in the collection, is the genuinely creepy tale of an undead celebrity brothel in which clients with the means can have the night of their dreams with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly. No one is off limits or unattainable in this dilapidated zombie-esque bordello deep in the woods – even James Dean and Elvis Presley are willing switch hitters in death. “Star Est Control” visits a futuristic world in which even affordable housing comes at a price – namely haunting advertising screens on every inch of available wall space. It’s an interesting surrealistic oddity of a story – one fitting to bring the collection to its close.

Playing more at times like exercises in surrealism than straight-forward horror, Waiting for October is meant to embody the literary equivalent of “the quaint sampler candy box” and offers readers a nibble of the work of an assortment of dark scribes. Like a Whitman’s sampler, it’s an experiment with mixed results – some nut clusters (Strand), the occasional cherry cordial that offsets too many vanilla butter creams (Pepper), some pleasing truffles (Pinborough), and some gourmet Belgium chocolates (Thomas). On the strength of Pepper’s “Buried a Man I Hated There” and Thomas’ “Adoration” alone, Waiting for October is worth a few post-holiday calories.

Purchase Waiting for October, edited by Bill Breedlove.

Posted on Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 11:51AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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