A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #32:-
Edited by Christopher Teague
Prime Books pb, 235pp, $15
This collection contains thirty-six stories, plus three poems by Tony Mileman, which are, in the words of the editor, ‘love stories that display the darker, twisted, nastier side of affection’. In fact, while most of the characters give love as the motive for what they are doing, the psychology of that emotion is largely ignored, emphasis instead being placed squarely on its physical manifestations, and the more bizarre the better, a genuine case of love ain’t nothing but sex misspelled.
Teague has managed to attract some ‘name’ writers, of whom Ramsey Campbell is the most eminent. His ‘The Other Woman’ is the longest story in the book, the tale of an artist who becomes unhealthily preoccupied with his imaginary model. The story is not one of his better efforts, though Campbell is a true professional and keeps it interesting right up to the end, drawing the reader in only to disappoint with one of the horror genre’s more venerable cliches, the guy waking up after a dream of violent sex to find that, oops, he’s killed the wife. Christopher Fowler’s ‘The Arousal Carousel’ is a lot more original and witty, a look at the amorous exploits of a sex toy let loose in the world. Carol Anne Davis offers perhaps the most controversial story in ‘Brand New Boyfriend’, a finely observed account of paedophilia, one that eschews graphic excess in favour of something almost mundane and ultimately far more disturbing in its casual amorality. Steve Rasnic Tem gets closest to the theme of love with ‘This Thing Called Love’, a bittersweet account of romance stretched way past its sell by date. Paul Finch taps into a rich seam of black comedy with ‘Stan’s the Man’, in which a jaded porn movie actress invokes desperate measures to revive her sex life, and gets more than she bargained for, while Gary Greenwood delivers a memorably nasty tale of a mother’s misguided love for her daughter in ‘Teddybears and Bloody Towels’. Brian Willis strikes a note of originality with ‘Slug-a-bed’, a seriously creepy and Kafkaesque piece in which an abandoned husband turns into a giant slug as a way to compel his wife’s return, while Rhys Hughes is on form with his wry tale of ‘The Duvet Thief’, in which a man consults a psychiatrist and the two talk amusingly at cross purposes before getting to the real problem.
There’s a sameness to much of the rest though, the commonality of boy meets girl and let’s hang around to see who gets hurt and how badly, with lashing of S&M nastiness on top and love simply meaning you never have to use the safe word. The quality is patchy and too many themes recur. Most obviously a third of the stories feature variations on necrophilia, undying love in one form or another acting as a leit motif in pieces by Darren Floyd, Thomas Roche, Paul Kane, Lisa Dumond, Mark West, John B. Ford, and Darren Franz, among others. Elsewhere, in stories by Gord Rollo and Kenneth H Woods, there are people whose gut response to unrequited love is to kill the object of their affections, and we have female stalkers courtesy of Eve Rings and Kim Padgett-Clarke. There are people who practise mutilation, either on themselves or others, as a way to affirm their love in stories by Stacy Layne Wilson, Mike Watt, Cathy Buburuz, J Newman and Alison R Davies. And, of course, inevitably, there’s a vampire story (P Curran). And a werewolf (John Everson).
Curiously, none of the stories involve a gay relationship. Why not? Doesn’t the editor regard gays as being dark, twisted and nasty? Obviously he’s never met my stalker.
This collection is certainly not recommended to the squeamish. And don’t come to it expecting another Hot Blood or Little Deaths; the ideas and writing are not of that quality. As a rule of thumb, generally when you publish this much material, you’re bound to luck onto some good stuff and, while on balance I could have done with a bit more in the way of originality, there are more than enough gems here to justify wading through all the stuff that leaves something to be desired. I would however recommend reading only a few at a time rather than gulping them down wholesale, as your reviewer was forced to do to satisfy the deadline whimsy of a tyrannical, whip cracking editor.