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Vivisections

edited by William P Simmons

(Catalyst Press, $16, 253 pages, 2003, ISBN 91-85075-00-0.)

The theme of this anthology is pain, either physical or intellectual, the different aspects cover scanof which are covered by twenty stories plus an afterword. Any anthology, even the most celebrated, is a mixed bag where each reader can find something he likes, something he dislikes and something that leaves him indifferent. Personally I feel that a book is worth the price I paid when I enjoy at least half of the stories therein or when there is at least one gem to remember. The present anthology satisfies both requirements.

First of all a warning. To me the stories to be taken into consideration are nineteen, not twenty. The first one is a reprint of an old Ramsey Campbell tale "The guy" (which first appeared in the 1973 collection Demons and Daylight) and why on earth it is included here is beyond my comprehension, unless, as I suspect, Ramsey's name is used as a decoy to lure potential readers to buy the book. Unnecessary artifice, because many of the remaining nineteen stories are either good or excellent. I will only mention the best ones and I'll forget the ones that are forgettable.

In Tim Waggoner's "Broken glass and gasoline" the only survivor of a car accident, haunted by a sense of guilt for having outlived the rest of her family, becomes obsessed with a mysterious black car which runs at high speed along the road nearby. The final confrontation will seal the woman's fate for ever. A gripping story, extremely well written.

"Who trespasses against Him" by Michael Oliveri is a vivid tale of excruciating physical and spiritual pain suffered by a priest being tortured and interrogated by a brutal inquisitor. A rare example of what we can call "religious horror"...

Robert Morrish's contribution "Mercy to spare" portrays a pharmacy clerk irresistibly attracted by any woman affected by an incurable disease. Again physical and moral pain are tightly connected to produce a dark, engrossing narrative.

Paul G. Tremblay in "Perfect" depicts the loneliness of a little boy neglected by his grieving mother who devotes herself only to the care of her newborn baby. The chilling ending of the story will see the boy and his little sister united in the quest for the "perfect" happiness.

"Slightly all the time" by Len Maynard and Mick Sims recounts the story of a woman whose past of sex abuse by her father throws a tragic shadow on her marriage. Very efficacious.

"The theatre at the end of the world" is the impressive professional debut of a new writer, Ron J. Horsely. An eerie atmosphere surrounds the activities of a weird janitor in charge of a strange movie theatre exclusively attended by a freakish audience. An upsetting story, beautifully told which will make the reader's flesh creep.

Nancy Kilpatrick's "In the middle of nowhere" is a very short tale where a trivial incident in the Underground triggers an interior drama in a woman whose lover has been recently killed in a plane crash.

The highlight of the anthology, the real gem, however, is "Duty", a superb story by Gary A. Braunbeck taking place at the bedside of a dying woman, kept alive by a ventilator and surrounded by her "dutiful" son and dispassionate daughter. As in most of the stories from Braunbeck's mythical collection "Things left behind" the author digs underneath the surface of simple horror, unearthing the hidden truths of our existence. Life -- with its glory and its misery -- love -- the eternal illusion -- and death -- the unsolved mystery. Braunbeck is more than a fine horror writer, he is the poet of everyday's evil.

But at the end of the volume the readers of Vivisections will find an extra bonus, a non-fictional piece by David B. Silva ("Shaking things up"), perfectly matching the spirit of Braunbeck's tale, and which, alone, is worth the price of the book. As only great writers are able to do, Silva contrives to put in words the feelings most of us share but are incapable of admitting or expressing .

So, for instance, why are we reading horror fiction? Because sometimes we find the courage "to cross over to the dark side for a quick peek", while standing on solid ground with our feet.

"Life is scary enough" and so we go looking for thrills among the pages of our books, we like to be shaken, while keeping on the safe side. After all, if we become too scared "we can always close the book"...


Review by Mario Guslandi.


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