DarkEcho Horror
darkdial by Rick Berry
Featured Review

  • Rock Breaks Scissors Cut
  • Zombie Jam
  • Bullets of Rain
  • Rock Breaks Scissors Cut
    David J. Schow
    Subterranean Press/ $40/ 140p
    ISBN: 1931081816

    Subterranean billed this as Schow's "first novel in over ten years!" At 140 pages, that's really pushing any definition of "novel." You can forgive them, however, because this "short novel" (or novella or what have you) is definitely worth pushing.

    Book Cover A decade or so ago Schow's prose was as sharp as a switchblade, now he cuts with an even sharper surgical scalpel. In this outing, the author takes three subjects -- a stunningky beautiful model, a pop cultural war-weary journalist, a dowdy as a dust bunny bookstore clerk -- and places them in the hands of the mysterious Dr. Helen Gold. The subjects think they have nothing at all in common until the good doctor's experiments in dream recording starts revealing a nightmarish interdependence.

    Nothing lasts very long, you know, especially reality.

    Rock Breaks Scissors Cut is, obviously, an experiment itself. Schow gives the ending a twist that a contortionist would appreciate leaving rationales and explanations to the reader, a move that might not please all, but is still a sit-you-on-your-butt finale. Perspicacious readers, however, will manage to massage their bruises, get back on their feet and give a standing ovation.

    (Expanded from a review that appeared in Cemetery Dance #47.)

    Zombie Jam
    David J. Schow
    Subterranean Press/ $40/ 140 p
    ISBN: 1-931081-77-8
    Now scheduled for release in 2004

    Zombie Jam is a retrospective of Schow's vivid zombie phase. No one else has ever done zombies exactly his way, and even if you aren't a fan of the shuffling dead, you'll appreciate them here and have another chance to appreciated the sensational Mr. Schow.

    In opener "Blossom" a man's sexual fetish goes bad, but the victim, thanks to some instant zombification takes kink more than a step beyond what her partner could ever have imagined. A quick story, over in the blink of a jaded eye, "Blossom" packs inexpungible punch. "New York, where all things new and noteworthy happen first..." is the setting and the soul of "DONt/WALK." Where else would the living dead fit in so naturally? "Jerry's Kids Meet Wormboy" is not only the collection penultimate story, it may well be the penultimate zombie story that embodies the "what might-have-been" had more writers understood, like Schow and Joe Lansdale, that giggles were just as important as gross-out to "splatterpunk." Eating 'em (it begans) was more fun than blowing their gnarly green heads off. But why dicker when you could do both?... The fresher ones were blue. That was important if you wanted to avoid cramps, salmonella. Eat a green one and you'd be yodeling down the big porcelain megaphone in no time. "Dying Words" explains as well as anything why mass producing product for consumers is inferior to writing for readers, but still inevitable.

    Book Cover The introduction is a concise nonfictional explanation of the emergence of "zombie fiction" an required reading in a world where horror readers and writers, seem to think flesh-eating zombies are an ancient archetype. As Schow points out, zombies are "one of the first monster archetypes to spring from cinema rather than literature" and that the primary source of the myth that captured the horror-writing minds of the 1980s and 90s was George Romero. An afterword provides more insight into zombies in general, the stories in particular, and (along with intrductions to the stories) insight into the author.

    Publication has been delayed for about a year now (at this writing) -- small press has its arcane reasons as well as its practical ones and there's little use to attempting to figure them out -- but is promised for sometime in 2004. Pre-order. It is worth the wait.

    (About three sentences of this review appeared in Cemetery Dance #47 . Essentially original.)

    Bullets of Rain
    David J. Schow
    HarperCollins/ Dark Alley / 290 pages / $13.95 (September 2003)
    ISBN: 0-06-053667-5

    In general, I prefer writing from the heart. Horror's an emotion, right? Its best writers tend to leave a little of their own blood on every manuscript. You could test their text for DNA and come up positive. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams, they have tricks in their pockets, things up their sleeves ­- but they are the opposite of stage magicians. Magicians give you illusion that has the appearance of truth. These writers give you truth in the disguise of illusion. They write from the gut up, not the head down.

    David J. Schow is an exception. He writes from the head down, not the gut up, and succeeds with brilliant singularity. He is a stage magician, but his tricks are so sharp, his illusions are so convincing, his smoke-and-mirrors are so enthralling that you don't mind his distance and manipulation.

    Bullets of Rain is very clever indeed. Cut the cards yourself, but there's no way you can beat his shuffle. Schow even allows the reader an occasional wink-and-nod, a hint here and there of his slight of hand. Doesn't matter. This prestidigitator rolls his sleeves up, smiles, shows there's nothing in either hand -- then empties the pockets of your mind, shakes you down, and leaves you disoriented and possibly babbling.

    Book Cover Protagonist Art has holed up, both figuratively and literally, in a ³sanctuary of his own making.² The literal sanctuary is a Northern California beach house he's designed to withstand any assault the Pacific Ocean (or most anything or anyone else) can deal. Mourning the loss of his wife, he's emerged from a period of ³bottomless pit drinking,² but still avoids most human contact. With Blitz, a trained Alsatian-Doberman, he passes time walking the beach, taking target practice, remembering the past, and awaiting a storm that will truly test the capabilities of his modern fortress.

    Art's solitude is interrupted by the welcome appearance of Derek, a flamboyant old friend who comes bearing steaks and an implausible macho tale of murder and imprisonment. Derek disappears and Art confronts the possibility that, in his loneliness and disconnection, he has hallucinated the visit. The approaching storm, however, is a firm reality.

    Then Suzanne, an escapee from a party down beach, shows up drenched, freezing, ditzy, and sexier than hell. Art plays white knight and, despite the intensifying storm, eventually returns Suzanne to the party house.

    Hosted by alpha-wolf Price and his spectacular mate Michelle, the bizarre party is full of beautiful people and fueled not only by the usual sex, drugs, and drink, but also by a strange and special pharmaceutical of Price's own devising.

    Art retreats to the safety of his house, but neither man nor manse can completely withstand the storm of never-before-encountered intensity and the party-people's assault on Art's perception of reality. The atmosphere of dark disorientation deepens and it both compels and confounds the reader.

    Schow seems to have devised his fictional illusion as a challenge to himself as a writer as much as to effect the reader. How far can I go? Can I set up a contrived situation, populate it with manufactured characters with unlikely motivations, introduce an unnatural disaster as the hinge pin (for all the accurate weather data he supplies, the author never mentions that no hurricane has ever hit the western coast on the United States), and still bring it all off? Well, yes, he can. Bullets of Rain is proof of that, but one wonders what miracles the magician might pull out of his hat if he weren't quite so busy playing a dangerous game of mumbly-peg with himself.

    Unless you count the 140-page Rock Breaks Scissors Cut from earlier in 2003 (see above), Bullets of Rain is David. J. Schow's first novel since The Shaft (1990). There's never been any doubt that Schow is a masterful -- as well as daring -- writer, flat-out one of the best around. But powerful prose and sheer audacity alone do not a novel make. The fact that this novel works -- and do not mistake my musings for any doubt of that -- is evidence that the author can craft the longer form. It's also proof that his prestidigitation could be taken to the higher levels of true literary magic -- if he dares. I hope he does.
    -- from Cemetery Dance #48

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