Dark Screams: Volume Six

October 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

screams6Dark Screams: Volume Six, edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar

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Like the other two volumes of Dark Screams I’ve read (one and two), I bought this because it was only 99 cents. Also like the other two volumes, the stories are a mixed bag. To make things worse for this one, the bulk of the collection (nearly sixty percent!) is made up of one long novella, which had already been published by Cemetery Dance, at which both of the editors work. Even at 99 cents, I feel a bit gypped.

It starts out with “The Old Dude’s Ticker”, an unpublished story of Stephen King’s from when he was publishing short stories in men’s magazines. It’s a retelling of “The Tell-tale Heart”, and in the foreword, he notes he’s “not sure what [the editor]’s problem with it might have been”, but having read it, I feel like I have some insight. It’s not original or interesting, nor does it have anything to say.

Lisa Morton’s “The Rich Are Different” follows, and is about an author who visits a wealthy family which served as the inspiration for a scathing novel about the rich. It’s well written and engaging, and it kept my interest, but the twist at the end was a bit stupid.

“The Manicure” by Nell Quinn-Gibney is the next story, and tells the story of a woman who has a neurosis about her nails. It’s effectively squicky (Quinn-Gibney channels a feeling we’ve all felt and can respond to), and it has a suggestive ending I appreciate.

Norman Prentiss contributed a story, “The Comforting Voice”, and it’s the second story of his I’ve read. I like his style, and he has a way for honing in on the things that disturb, so I’ll likely add him as an author to follow. This story is about family and children, and touches on darkness without delving into the supernatural. Like any good short story, it ends without resolution, and leaves the reader thinking about the future.

“The Situation” is Joyce Carol Oates’ contribution, and she’s an author who’s often over my head. The story is a brief one, and is another of her examinations of cruelty, paired with some disturbing imagery. It opens with one scene of cruelty and ends with another; either one will be the more wrenching of the two, but which one bothers you the most depends on what you bring to the story. Highly recommended.

The last story in the collection is The Corpse King by Tim Curran, which is the novella I mentioned above. It’s descriptive and atmospheric, and feels like a well-written story, but it doesn’t do much for me beyond that. It’s set in 19th-Century England, and concerns a pair of grave robbers. Curran paints about as bleak a portrait of the time as possible, spending several thousand words telling us how unpleasant life is at that time. That the main characters are desecrating graves and stealing bodies makes them about as sympathetic as lampreys, and Curran makes sure we know how disgusting it all is. The novella is mostly description, which gets somewhat old (seriously, how many times do we need to have the smell of putrefaction described to us?), and it suggests that Curran revels in being disgusting. The whole thing felt juvenile to me, especially when he has his characters talk to each other in crass banter. It got old fast, and I went through the whole thing waiting for it to get better. It never did.

So, out of six stories, three seem worthwhile, and they make up a small percentage of this collection. The three good stories are enough for me to rate the entire thing three stars, but by themselves, they would be at least four. The deadweight of the other stories drag them down, but for 99 cents, I’d recommend those three stories. Try to avoid the others, if you can resist them.

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