Saturday, January 29, 2011
In a post last week, I reviewed Stephen King's novella The Crate, which has just been published for the first time in Shivers VI. Today I'd like to tackle the Cemetery Dance anthology (edited by Richard Chizmar) as a whole.
Admittedly, there are a handful of clunkers here (I won't single out the authors of such tales for ignominy), but the rest of the 21 selections do a fine job of eliciting the response promised by the volume's title. Some of the standout pieces from that latter group:
"Waiting for Darkness" by Brian Keene. This piece of flash fiction is short and anything but sweet. It will make you think twice about allowing anyone to bury you up to your neck in sand at the beach ever again.
"Like Lick 'Em Sticks, Like Tina Fey" by Glen Hirshberg. A story--concerning the burgeoning vampirism of two young Southern mothers--as offbeat as its title. Hirshberg makes excellent use of pop cultural reference here to gloss the action and underscore the themes of the piece.
"Fallow" by Scott Nicholson. A post-apocalyptic tale that conveys a sense of a devastated world in a mere dozen pages. This one also concludes with perhaps the most discomforting scene of newborn-nursing this side of Rosemary's Baby.
"Mole" by Jay Bonansinga. Barker meets Le Carre in this hauntingly hybrid tale of demons and religious espionage. There's enough material here to make for a terrific novel--or better yet, a feature film.
"Keeping It in the Family" by Robert Morrish. A phildickian (you know you've made it as a writer when your name is transformed into an adjective) narrative in which paranoia runs rampant. The plot hints at an "intelligent" virus cooked up in a chemical lab in the caves of Afghanistan, but what proves most unnerving here is the group of mutant watchers that methodically terrorize the story's narrator.
Undoubtedly, though, the volume's two strongest pieces are the opening and concluding selections. "Serial," a collaboration between Blake Crouch and Jack Kilborn, inaugurates the anthology's proceedings with no shortage of grue. The tale presents a precisely (and chillingly) detailed account of a cat-and-cat game between dueling serial killers--one a motorist who preys on hitchhikers, the other a hitchhiker who hunts drivers. While the conclusion here is a bit predictable in its irony, the journey towards that end-point makes for one wild, frightful ride. Finally, in "A Special Place: The Heart of A Dark Matter," Peter Straub once again couches awful subject matter within graceful prose. In this one, a serial killer in Wisconsin (surprise, surprise) tutors his young, social-misfit nephew in the craft of abduction and torture (perhaps the uncle says it all when he tells his nephew that if he ever goes bald when he grows up, he "might wind up looking like the guy in that painting, 'American Gothic'"). Readers need not be familiar with A Dark Matter, but "A Special Place" does shed an interesting light on the novel's characters and events.
The print debut of the Stephen King piece will likely be the main attraction here for collectors/completists, but Shivers VI has plenty else within its contents to recommend it. At over 400 pages (including author biographies/story notes) and only $20, this sixth installment in the anthology series provides plenty of bang for your Cemetery Dance bucks, and will keep you shivering long after this cold, harsh winter has ended.