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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Pain & Other Petty Plots to Keep You in Stitches
Alan M. Clark, Troy Guinn, Randy Fox, Mark Edwards, Jeremy Robert Johnson
IFD Publishing/ 112p / $16 / Oversized (8.5" X 11") Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0-9671912-5-4
February 2003

Cover Ever read one of those "patient preparation" brochures designed to relieve the stress and anxiety of hospitalization? They go something like this: "Patients, no matter the type of hospital procedure they face, experience feelings of uncertainty and fear. The prospect of hospitalization can be frightening and upsetting..." Damn right. They take away your clothes, your identity, your freedom, your ability to communicate with whomever you wish whenever you wish, confine you to a small space -- and that's just for starters. We won't even discuss being jabbed, prodded, probed, shaved, cut, sliced, sutured, drugged, displayed... Let's face it. This is something to be afraid of.

Artist Alan M. Clark has, for a number of years, been executing art that makes your normal hospital nightmares look like snack time at preschool on double cookie day. A series of "surgery" paintings became the inspiration for a book, The Pain Doctors of Suture Self General, and related projects. For this volume, pain doctors art, original art in the same vein (pun intended), and other art from other projects (including a couple from a biology text book) have been combined with original and previously published fiction.

The art is indescribable, but I'll try. Think: torturous proceedings conducted by the laboratory-bred offspring of Dr. Josef Mengele and Nurse Ratched using the latest in alien anal probe medical equipage as designed by pulp sci-fi artists all painted by Hieronymous Bosch (yeah, I know he's dead) channeling H.H. Giger -- but with humor. It lends a new meaning to the term "invasive procedure." [The art is, unfortunately, reproduced only (by economic necessity, I'm sure, but possibly to protect the innocent) in black-and-white.]

The stories? [I wish the etymology of "sophomore" really did show its meaning to be, as commonly believed, "wise fool," because the fiction is both wise and intentionally foolish and I could make some clever wordplay with the word "sophomoric." But I can't. ("Sophomore" is really a variation of "sophist.")] The text portions of Pain & Other Petty Plots to Keep You in Stitches is sick, silly, repugnant and funny -- just as it should be. For, as co-conspirator Randy Fox says in an afterword, "Humor...is our main defense mechanism against the horror in the world....Humor not only defends us against horror, but it also helps us to swallow the bitterest pill." Pain & Other Petty Plots can't stop a reflex gag when confronting that pill, but it can help you giggle it down.

Clark's very real essay, "The Unseen and the Unknowable" is a chunk of his life that most folks who know him know at least part of. His frank telling of how the worst of times can lead to the best of life is worth the price of the book. Horror, you know, can lead to redemption. ("Waves of Fear," Cemetery Dance #43)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.