DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Gemma Files
Prime / 225p./ $17.95
ISBN: 1-894815-63-7 (May 2003)

Cover Gemma Files' first collection includes 16 previously published short stories written from 1994 through 2002 and one original. Chances are you've not read most of them unless you read a lot of small press as she's just now beginning to show up in better-known anthologies like DARK TERRORS 6 and THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF VAMPIRE FICTION BY WOMEN. It's difficult to call her an up-and-comer or a "name to watch" as she's been writing for more than a decade, won an IHG award, caught the notice of quite a few, and done some professional screenwriting. Nevertheless, she may be new to you and I'm pleased to introduce her.

File's stygian world is a gritty, violent, bloody place full of monsters and lacking gods. Without divinity there's no chance for redemption, no chance for escape, no heroics: no one comes out alive (or at least unscarred.) These stories of stories of sex, obsession, transformation, loneliness, and isolation are often explicit, there's no raw exploitation or sheer sensationalism. Despite the extremity of the stories, it's usually the deep humanity (or inhumanity or "un"humanity) of the characters that makes the deepest impression. Similarly, when Files dips into the supernatural she does so as a support to story rather than the reason for it existence.

At her best, ("Bear-Shirt," "Keepsake," "Mouthful of Pins," "Skin City," "Skeleton Bitch") she writes with precision, placing each word as carefully as a syllable in a haiku. Her prose often verges on the poetic whether describing the mundane ("The bright eye of her cigarette blinks, as ash dots the rug beneath her feet.") or the extraordinary ("The nude moon of her left eye bulges and slits, blankly, as its lid smears itself shut.")

Overall Files relies a little too often on first person and occasionally stoops to cute tricks ("The Diarist," "Folly," "Job 37") but still manages to pull her story off well. My only disappointment was with the eponymous "Kissing Carrion," which would have been improved with more of her usual care and her knack for restraint.

Files' wounds tend to fester rather than heal cleanly, so her stories will not be to everyone's taste. Nor will her characters -- they are drawn from the dispossessed rather than likeable gee-whiz innocents. Nobody in a Gemma Files stories puts a hand on a doorknob and open the door they shouldn't -- these folks are already in the other side. And that's to my taste. -- Paula Guran (DarkEcho 06.10.03)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.