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BOOK REVIEWS: April 2001
By Paula Guran

EYE
by David Schow
Limited Edition
Subterranean Press/ $40/ 244 pages
ISBN: 1892284839

book cover David Schow on writing and reading: "Writing is sexy when it works correctly, Reading is a matter of seduction." Schow does it quite correctly with these thirteen recent tales from the edge of a modern abyss. This collection, the first in three years, tends toward focusing on relationships albeit with author's trademark mordant edginess and considerable sexual by-play. Wry dark humor is also frequent, but there are moments of, well, poignancy -- and "touching" is not an adjective one would usually use to describe Schow's fiction. The otherwise shocking "Saturnalia" is also an exploration of the meaning of love. "Why Rudy Can't Read" looks as an abusive relationship. "Unhasped" captures a man remembering the "corpses of relationships gone by" then twists the premise into a chilling finale. "2 Worth" is a complex little parable that appears at first glance to be simple tale of bibliophilia but, in truth, is both reminiscent of Bradbury (a further dimension considering the context) and somewhat Kafkaesque. Another master -- Robert Bloch -- is evoked in "Blessed Event" although Uncle Bob would probably have never messed with this particular part of human nature: procreation itself. "Entr'acte" is a nightmare about a man's "never really being able to know with whom one was crawling into the bed with each night" and "Holiday" another bad dream about male-/femaleness. The author's "Afterword" is well-written, revealing, ranting, a bit revolting (intentionally), and highly readable: prime Schow nonfiction. In fact, you could say that about the intelligent, effective fiction as well. A highly notable collection of 2001.

HOSTS
F. Paul Wilson
Edition Reviewed: Limited Edition
Gauntlet Press/ $50/ 366 pages
ISBN: 1-887368-46-9
(Now also available in trade hardcover)

book cover If you have yet to meet Repairman Jack -- a postmodern handy man who can fix things when the system can't (and is often part of the problem) -- HOSTS is not a bad place to start. It is the fifth novel to feature the outlaw Mr. Fix-it, but it works well as both a continuation of the legend and as a novel in and of itself. HOSTS is the literary equivalent of a master chef's culinary concoction. Wilson takes a chunk of street-smart suspense, bones, rolls, and ties it around a core of the individual vs. society, spices with science fiction, adds a dollop of the supernatural, a dash of mystery, and garnishes with horror. This time out RJ has to combat The Unity , an intelligent-but-emotionless virulence intent on destroying individuality by integrating humankind into a vast and hellish hive mind. (Yes, shades of Jack Finney's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.) Jack also meets up with a sister whose lover is endangered and two characters from his ever-shady past who haunt him. It's all fast-paced action, but there's considerable depth beneath the entertaining sheen. A hint of some form of "cosmic war" promises future adventures for RJ and his growing legions of (well-deserved) fans. So start here or start somewhere else in the series, but make sure to catch Repairman Jack.

TALKING IN THE DARK
by Dennis Etchison
Stealth Press/ $29.95 / 368 pages
ISBN: 1588810178

book cover Dennis Etchison once described his own fiction as "Rather dark, depressing, almost pathologically inward fiction about the individual in relation to the world... my stories are about solitary individuals, trying to find a way to intersect with society." Fair enough, but this explanation leaves out how his impeccably crafted short fiction effects the reader. It subverts expectations and disrupts the perception of normalcy leaving readers off-balance, disoriented. Etchison typically creates a personal miasma permeated with a sense of dread and then offers very little resolution to relieve the anxiety he's induced in the reader. (The now-classic "The Dark Country," for instance, ends with the words: "He sat with the motor running, trying to pick a direction.") Readers are dropped into the shadows cast by the southern California sun, left in pockets of darkness in L.A.'s neon-lit night, suspended breathless in the hills and canyons, drowned in familial or societal dysfunction, and left thoroughly creeped out. This particular collection is a compilation of two dozen stories the author feels are his best from four decades of writing and, indeed, it is a "best of the best" by a master-writer: absolutely essential not only for those who appreciate dark fiction, but for anyone who appreciates the art of the short story.


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