DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Mirror of the Night
by Roberta Lannes
[Non-]Introduction by Harlan Ellison
Limited Editions, Signed and Numbered: Leather-bound (5) $65.00; Clothbound (300) $35.00;Trade Edition (500)
Silver Salamander Press

Roberta Lannes is a skillful, imaginative writer who uses all the requisite beêtes noir of avant garde horror fiction in her new collection, The Mirror of the Night. In only ten stories she covers bestiality, incest, child torture, child abuse, S&M, necrophilia, demon lovers, an evil ob-gyn, lovable psychos you can't help but understand even as they kill, and more! In fact, Lannes has a proclivity of putting an original mix of perversion in most of her stories: the S&M story is also a zombie love story; the demon lover is trapped inside the body of a woman who makes her living doing phone sex; the necrophilia is mixed with incest; sometimes the psychos even fall in love and live happily, if somewhat mutilated-ly ever after.

Despite solid writing technique and originality, the reader remains mostly unaffected by this laundry list of the shocking and perverse. It is as if we are voyeurs kept safe behind the emotion-proof Plexiglas of Lannes' authorial distance. She -- the writer, the heart and soul of each story -- simply doesn't exist in them. Anyone writing sexual horror these days is sure to be compared to another Silver Salamander author, Lucy Taylor. The comparison here is apt. The heat of Taylor's stories is generated by exactly what is lacking here -- a feeling that the writer is a part of the story in some tangible, if not easy to define, way.

The strongest story in the collection is "The Shy Fruit of Pathos." In it Lannes examines the life of an empath who heals by literally taking disease into her own body and a young man who is her security guard. There are nasty little twists -- secrets; the empath has murdered her mother after taking on the psychoses of another; sexuality and love lived out in mutual dreams -- but most importantly, you feel that these characters, mild in comparison to the others Lannes writes about are real; that she "knows" them.

This is not to say that Lannes should not be read. Based on her writing abilities, her consistency in deriving the impetus of the story from her characters and her knack for originality, I would like to read more of her work. But I feel most of this collection is not so much Lannes writing from something within herself, but as an observer of the shocking. I'd prefer less shock and more Lannes.

* * *

An interesting aspect of the collection is its "non-introduction" by Harlan Ellison. Ellison is noted for his public disdain for "blurbing", so anything he does endorse with an introduction is noteworthy. But, in true Ellisonian style, he uses this as a forum to state that introductions -- no matter how well-intended -- are dishonest. Publishers, he feels, should have the faith in themselves and the author's work and should not rely on the addition of a "marketable name" via an introduction. Ellison feels a reader should use her own judgment, sample a book, and buy it if it's to her liking. Good theory. Unfortunately a limited edition book with minimal distribution, available only through direct marketing or speciality booksellers does not offer the potential buyer this opportunity. It is not going to be found sitting on most bookstore shelves and available for perusing.

The writers' art is also a commodity and must be sold. The time-honored technique of appending a better known name to a work simply helps sell books. Let's face it, if intelligence or art had any effect on the world of publishing it would be a much better world. In the world of small press publishing, there is no effort made to "hawk [the book] as a movie or television mini-series..." as Ellison accuses. Only an honest effort to get a book that would probably otherwise not be published to the public and somehow sell enough books to cover the cost of that endeavor.

As valid as Ellison's argument may be, he should not have offered it in this particular book, but in a mass market one that can, indeed, be more readily "tasted." -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.