I took one look at the cover and decided I had to read this. I wrongly assumed it was about the carny life and ever since reading Geek Love I’ve been drawn to those types of books. These stories aren’t about sideshow freaks and pop-up carnivals but they’re mostly pretty good despite that.
The book is broken up into three sections. Oddities, Curiosities & Undefinable Wonders. I enjoyed more of the stories in the first two categories and started to feel a little fatigued by the end. This is typical of me and short story collections (see my review for Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror) and likely says nothing about the collection but there it is.
Let’s start with the ODDITIES.
Larue’s Dime Museum by Lisa Morton Julia is intrigued by two old photos she discovers at an antique shop and brings them home. Soon her life has turned into a creepy Twilight Zone episode. This tale sets just the right tone for this collection.
Wildflower, Cactus by Rose Brian Kirk The price of beauty and the ugliness of human nature leads two women down the path of body modification and helps them find their power.
"The world is a mirror. What do you want to see?"
I wish this story had been a bit longer but I truly enjoyed what was there.
The Baker of Millepoix by Hal Bodner A heartbroken man buys a bakery and gives it his all (and that’s all I’m saying!). Before long, miracles start to happen. I do believe this was my favorite story in the collection. It has it all. There is a great setup, character building, fabulous storytelling and even a little humor. You must read it.
Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament by Clive Barker I've read this one twice before in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Vol. 2 . I nearly skipped it this time around but am glad I didn’t.
Jacqueline discovers she has a grisly talent that terrifies her a little. It would terrify me too. It’s a pretty dastardly power. But once she realizes what a rush of power it brings, she develops a new lust for life. She perfects her talent and wields it to exact revenge and rid herself of pesky men. It’s dark, bloody, visceral, horribly humorous (if you’re warped) and classic Clive Barker. Even on this, my third reading, I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time.
An Exhibition of Mother and Monster by Stephanie M. Wytovich This is a damning poem on those who glee in the sideshow freaks. Now I almost feel bad for my little fetish.
Next up: CURIOSITIES
I love shops filled with old treasures. The creepier the better.
Madame Painte: For Sale by John Langan Intrigued by a "must be kept outside" sign accompanying a strangely painted garden gnome, “you” decide to bring it inside and learn more about its story. And it's a horrible story, indeed! It's devilishly evil and I adored it. How come the old crap I bring home never has such a sinister secret life?!
Chivalry by Neil Gaiman Gaiman’s dry wit is on full display as he tells this tale about a stubborn old bitty who stumbles upon the Holy Grail and refuses to part with it! Sir Galaad brings her all sorts of gifts in order to get it back but she is not at all impressed. If I had the ability to laugh out loud while reading, this would’ve been the story to make me to do it. Simply charming.
VERY IMPT. BONUS NOTES: I just discovered that Levar Burton reads this in episode 7 of his new podcast! Drop everything and go listen!!
Fully Boarded by Ramsey Campbell I know Ramsey Campbell is a legend in horrorland but his writing has never quite worked for me. The same goes here. This story is about a travel reviewer, a wristband and some truly terrible hospitality. I’d give this a three. It was ok, slightly on the “meh” side of the scale and not my favorite here.
In Amelia’s Wake by Erinn L. Kemper This story is slathered all over with grief. It’s about a group of brother’s who are watching over Amelia Earhart's plane and about a slithery thing that hides in the shadows. I thought it was slightly eerie but slow and it ended too suddenly.
A Ware That Will Not Keep by John F.D. Taff A dying man shares a terrible story from his past. Now this one was took my breath away. It’s a creative and haunting little tale and that ending? Damn, that will be hard to forget.
Earl Pruitt’s Smoker by Patrick Freivald A bee keeper’s old smoker brings one woman the freedom and excitement she so desperately craves but it also brings out the worst in her. This is such an imaginative and chilling little story that smacks you in the face with the consequences of your darker side.
As a Guest at the Telekinetic Tea Party Stephanie M. Wytovich A whimsical poem that takes a dark turn. This one, at least, didn’t leave me with the guilts!
Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies Lucy A. Snyder This tale lures you in with the funny but then takes a sad turn as a woman faces the one moment she wishes she could redo.
And, finally, we have UNDEFINABLE WONDERS. This is the part of the collection where my attention began to wane. I only found one of the stories exceptional and completely engaging. The rest were a little bit of a struggle for me to finish.
The Shiny Fruit of Our Tomorrows by Brian Hodge This story follows a bunch of down on their luck train hoppers as they attempt to find a tree that is rumored to have magical powers that may lead them down a better path. It’s strikingly real but maintains a sense of wonder but was missing a little certain something for me.
The Wakeful Kristi DeMeester This is a weird story about a teacher, a bad relationship, a strange little girl and a terrible garden. Is it a tale of madness or something else? I am left unsure but it I do know that it left me feeling unsettled.
Knitter by Christopher Coake My favorite of the undefinable wonders. The author creates a dark vision of another world where people are trying to live their lives while attempting to avoid ever seeing a creature they call "knitters" who have a devastating power that they use at will. It has a fairytale like feel with a pitch black undertone, hypnotizing prose and an ending that hurts.
Through Gravel by Sarah Read There is a society living underground who call themselves “The Kindred”. As time goes by, their numbers shrink but a newbie arrives with new ideas that will invigorate their group but The Kindred’s greed may be their downfall. This story didn’t do it for me. I cannot explain the reasons.
Hiraeth by Richard Thomas I may have been out of steam by the time I arrived at this story because I didn’t understand it. It could be my lack of brain cells that caused me to miss nuanced symbolism or whatnot but honestly I’m too tired to think and don’t want to work this hard to comprehend a short story. It’s about a poor farmer’s son who has a hole running through is body, a prickly tree with forbidden fruit and the pain the hapless boy brings upon himself – I think. It was weird, that’s for sure.
Anyway, I’m beat and that’s all I have. There is some wondrous storytelling within these pages and, even though some of the stories weren’t meant for me, it’s most definitely a collection worth checking out!