A magazine review that originally appeared in The Fix #4:-
CEMETERY DANCE #37
Now in its thirteenth year of publication, this American magazine has built up an enviable reputation, albeit this particular issue doesn’t seem too inspiring on first sight. The cover, a close up of somebody screaming by Caniglia, an orthodontist’s worst nightmare, is rather humdrum, and the interior illustrations, by Matt Eames and Keith Minnion, are few and far between, with little to catch the eye, though there are plenty of book covers and film posters. However this is definitely a case that demonstrates the wisdom of that old saw about not judging a book by its cover or, indeed, the cheap paper on which it’s printed.
CD‘s content is split roughly down the middle between fiction and non-fiction, with the latter giving a comprehensive overview of the horror scene stateside and marking CD out as the place to go to know what’s hot and what’s not. There is, as a previous reviewer noted, rather too much about the doings of one Stephen King. If King ever decides to publish his shopping list then this is the place where it will appear, no doubt complete with critical commentary on the semiotic significance of the Maine Man’s choice in hamburger relish. Reviews of the latest King book and film may be obligatory, but do we really need a round up of sound bites from dozens of different reviews? That was meant to be a rhetorical question, but if anyone answered in the affirmative could they please put on their anorak and leave the building.
Otherwise CD‘s coverage is pretty balanced, written by people who know what they’re talking about and are refreshingly enthusiastic and upbeat on the subject of horror. Michael Marano’s film column is witty and insightful, opinionated and feisty, a pleasure to read, even if you don’t always agree with him, while Ray Garton gets up close and personal with the film of Selby’s Requiem for a Dream. Book reviews follow roughly the same format, wide ranging and by many hands, while Paula Guran deals with select titles in greater detail. My only quibble is that when so many writers are described as exciting and original, it’s hard to know who’s left to be dull and derivative. We need some crap for critical context. Charles L. Grant chips in with ‘Ramblings From the Dark’, an entertaining insider’s view of the life of a horror writer who constantly challenges himself to do things differently. Also on offer are interviews with T M Wright and Al Sarrontonio (loved his comment that he writes five or ten pages a day ‘no matter how long it takes. It could take an hour and a half or longer’), plus an interview with an anonymous, naturally, spokesperson for new kid on the block publisher Stealth Press, masquerading as an overview of their innovative business plan.
CD would be worth getting for the non-fiction alone, but there are also stories and they are pretty good. The highlight is ‘Circularity’ by Wright, which manages to be both funny and melancholy at the same time. The interlocking monolgues of three characters, two of them ghosts and the third a hitman they have decided to ‘save’, this reads like a cross between Ghost and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. ‘Genetically Predisposed’, with its tattoo that comes to life, is not as rewarding, but author Elizabeth Engstrom compensates for the ‘ordinariness’ of her concept with careful pacing and thoroughly credible characterisation, her defeated housewife seeking a way out deftly enlisting reader sympathy for her plight.
‘A Door Opens and Closes’ by Conrad Williams gets off to an uneasy start and at first doesn’t seem to be sure where it’s going, but then settles to become a moody and atmospheric ghost story, one where the terrors of the past overwhelm those living in the present, culminating in an ending that’s powerful and genuinely disturbing, making it the only story to give the Wright a serious run for its money. ‘Chimaera’s’ by Robin Spriggs is merely competent, the old story of a meeting with death given a cheap and cheerful veneer of Gothismo, but with nothing new to say. Odds on that most readers will guess the ending before its more than two pages old. Michael Cadnum’s ‘Miami Supercops’, the tale of a man searching for the girlfriend he’s misplaced, suffers from an overly oblique prose style, but saves itself from the status of instantly forgettable by delivering a vivid and shocking denouement. Finally there’s ‘Cleaning Compulsion’ by Gary Raisor, a nicely understated look at a divorcee’s attempt to get her life together, which neatly sidesteps the obsessive compulsive disorder route suggested by the title in favour of something slightly more unusual and with a Dahlesque sting in the tail.
There’s room for improvement, and certainly it could do with a more consistent selection of fiction, but all round Cemetery Dance is a publication that’s worth the time of anyone who likes reading intelligent and literary horror.