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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Painfreak
A Collection of Stories by Gerard Daniel Houarner
ISBN 1-889186-00-7/115 pages
Necro Publications
Limited, signed edition of 500: $9.95 US/$12.95 CAN

The comparison has to be made right up front. A writer who writes stories dealing with relationships and their extremities; who explores sex and death, pain and pleasure, and doesn't flinch when dealing with the intricacies of fetish and desire; who offers the most fetid portions of the societal body with no remonstration or suggestion of redemption; whose stories are introduced to us primarily through genre magazines and small press limited editions--yeah, sounds like Lucy Taylor. Well, it's not. The author of Painfreak is Gerard Daniel Houarner. But if at least part of the future of horror belongs to Ms. Taylor, then Mr Houarner is bidding for his piece.

Painfreak presents 10 stories dealing with those themes. The title story takes us to that most tantalizing of milieus, the mysterious club that feeds and is fed by decadence and a desire to experience everything, including oblivion. The club, Painfreak, appears briefly in two other stories, as well. "Painted Faces" twists familial expectations and secrets in an unusual and visceral manner. "The Night Pain" explores power, pain, and dreams. "Hot Thing" deals with the ability to become the ultimate object of desire. Dominance and submission are offered in differing versions in "The Safe Word" and "Trail of Pain and Letters." Abuse and use and preconceptions of role are contorted in "Tongue." The three stories of "The Max Trilogy" go into the realm of the supernatural and mythos, while still believing that, as A character says, "Sex, love, death. . .they are all the same...Pain? Pleasure? What is the difference? Words." These last stories beg for their complexities and characters to be woven into a work of greater length.

Squeamish? You should be. These aren't nice stories and their power lies in their ability to draw you into this distorted world where you begin to willingly accept its terrifying society. It's a dangerous book. That's another similarity to the work of Lucy Taylor. Like Taylor, Houarner makes the extreme all too acceptably fascinating and the reader comes away somehow changed.

As a writer, Houarner still has room to grow. As a craftsman, he still can use a final polish to truly make the stories lustrous. But the raw power and depth of his imagination combine to give him the ability to truly transform the reader. This makes up for the minor lacks. One shudders, deliciously, when contemplating just where he will go from this point. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.