(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
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
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
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,
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.