“Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions” by Neil Gaiman (Harper Perennial, 2001)

Smoke and Mirrorsstarstarstar

While few of you may be familiar with English author Neil Gaiman, he is a writer for any of those who enjoy reading horror in the vein of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King.  And what better way to experience and enjoy a new author than with a short story collection, giving a broad spectrum of Gaiman’s abilities.

Smoke and Mirrors does not have any running, horrific theme, or any specific aim; it is not horror or fantasy, science fiction or an erotic collection  . . . and then again it is all these and more.  The initial story, “Chivalry,” is about a lost knight – Galahad – who has been sent to find the Holy Grail; the problem is that a little old lady has recently bought it at a charity store and will not relinquish it that easy.  Written in poetic form, “Bay Wolf” presents a retelling of the epic of Beowulf through the framework of a Baywatch episode.

“We Can Get Them For You Wholesale” reveals the existence of a specific company that will kill people for a price; but when you request large numbers to be killed, the price drops; when you request the death of everyone on the planet, it’s free!  “Babycakes” is an obscene, perverted poem about a race that no longer has any animals to consume and use, so they turn to babies, who are similar intelligence.  “Some of them we ate.  Baby flesh is tender and succulent.  We flayed their skin and decorated ourselves in it.  Baby leather is soft and comfortable.”

While Gaiman does not possess much of a sophisticated literary skill – at least in this collection – he nevertheless is an author to read for the interesting and amazing stories he concocts.  This would be a welcome Christmas as present to anyone looking to try out a new author.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on December 3rd 2001.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Assorted Fire Events: Stories” by David Means (Context Books, 2000)

Stories of a Harsh World

Assorted Fire Eventsstarstarstar

Do not be dissuaded by the title, Assorted Fire Events is not a bunch of stories about vaguely interesting fire events; no, it’s much more than the latter.  David Means brings us thirteen new stories, all different and unique, making a very interesting read.

“The piece he stepped on, from an old malt liquor bottle, was as jagged as the French Alps, the round base of the bottle forming a perfect support for the protrusion . . . it went into his heel cleanly, cutting firmly into the hard pad, opening a wound that sent him falling sideways.”  So reads the opening story of the collection, entitled “Railroad Incident, August 1995.”  This is a story about a man who has been cheated on by his wife with one of his dependable friends.  A common story you might say, except this betrayal drives him to insanity, where he begins walking aimlessly into the ghettoes of New York.  There he is attacked by a group of hoodlums, leading to his ultimate demise.  But on this doomed journey he recounts his supposedly happy married life and how things often aren’t what they appear to be.

The second story, “Coitus,” is unlike any other I have read, and that’s really what makes a writer good at his job.  The story opens with a couple beginning with the early stages of foreplay, leading to their inevitable lovemaking.  But as the main character thrusts away in waves of pleasure, he begins recounting past instances of his life, like the tragic death of his brother, hoe he feel guilty about certain aspects of it.  The story is brought to any amusing conclusion with his partner questioning what that ‘far-away look in his eyes” is.

“Arno listened, half concerned for what Roy was plotting and half concerned for the split in his lip which had opened up and seemed to carry within a chasm of pain too wide for such a small crack in his flesh.”  “The Interruption” is a story about a hobo dared on by his friend to gatecrash a wedding, shocking all within with his shocking presence.  In “The Widow Predicament” a widow must decide what to so with the video of the honeymoon lovemaking.  In the Pushcart Prize-winning story, “What They Did,” suburban sprawl forces people to make drastic decisions that they may later regret.

“The light throb of the pump going; the faint pulse of the device in his chest cavity opening up with air and deflating next to his heart like a bird nesting between his ribs.”  “Tahorah” – where a man suffers a devastating accident and must deal with the consequences, along with analyzing the events and repercussions of his life.

The backdrop for most of these stories is suburban and downtown New York, the current residence of the author, which helps bring a certain kind of perspective to each individual story; the surroundings dark and bleak, remnants of the past that cannot be changed, and of a future that cannot be stopped or averted.  In Assorted Fire Events one is transported into a type of fantasy world, except the events within all all-too-possible, and either have occurred or quite possibly could occur to any one of us.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on March 5 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.