Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review of "Supernatural Noir" (Stories 1-4) edited by Ellen Datlow

Welcome Reader,

Please join me as I travel on a journey through the anthology titled, "Supernatural Noir." My review will be in stages as I read through the shorts. I'll try not to include any spoilers, but share my impressions instead. If I fail, my apologies in advance. I'm not supernatural. Just a humble reader, consumer of horror and avid writer.

This anthology starts out with an "Introduction" by the editor, Ellen Datlow. I enjoyed her description of "Noir Fiction." She paints it as, "...notably dark, brooding, cynical, complex, and pessimistic." Datlow describes Noir Fiction as "...thick with criminality and rife with betrayal," and states she feels there are only a scant number of Supernatural Noir stories. The editor highlights her love for dark edgy tales which contributed to her desire to edit this book.

As I started reading the first story, "The Dingus," by Gregory Frost, what hit me dead on was that this should not have been the starting story of the anthology. It was a fairly enjoyable read, but not the page turner that should have set the tone for the book.  Frost's story was rather slow paced at the beginning and picked up toward the end, and there were places where 'passive voice' made the prose too cumbersome. The last paragraph of page 15 took me right out of the story with several "had" and "had been" phraseology in the text. This error (I call it an error) occurred in other places as well, and I noted an overuse of the pronoun "he" on pages 27 and 28. Aside from that, I thought Frost's story was solid and creative. I loved his monster creation, which you simply must read to appreciate. Still, this story would have been better presented in the middle of the book, and would have read better if it were just a bit cleaner.

Paul Tremblay's "The Getaway," was the second read in this anthology. I admit up front that I'm not a fan of stories written in present tense, and there's a ton of narration in these pages that make it a stiff piece to read. The main character visualizes and reminisces quite a bit, and then finally on pages 35 to 38 we get to some dialogue, but it's an overly verbose argument as to whether or not one of the other characters is actually in the trunk of a car during a getaway. I found myself skimming through the story, through what seemed like nothing but a perpetual state of confusion among characters, and when I finished the tale I felt as if I'd gone on a wild car ride that ended up at a dead end. I guess I expected more, and perhaps it's there and I missed it, but after reading this story three times I can't really say I found anything intriguing about it.

I took a gulp and another chance at reading the third story in this book titled "Mortal Bait," by Richard Bowes. It takes the Private Investigator route in this piece, and at this point I'm trying to remember how many stories I've read that have P.I.'s as a main character. But I easily know the number. Way too many. Passive voice creeps into this story on the first page. It's about as subtle as a 2 ton brick dropped on a gallon of jello, and again I found myself skimming. By page 50 I was more than a little disappointed. I expected a description of hours old coffee to be something other than "old and tired." Day old coffee could be 'blatantly bitter, festering like the anger of a woman waiting for her cheating husband to come home late from work again.' But "old and tired coffee?" And this piece included elves and fairies in it, which (to me) didn't fit the definition of 'Supernatural Noir.' With all of the writers out there who probably submitted to this anthology, I expected something much more "noiry."

A couple of writers I really respect told me this anthology was very good, but by the time I finished the third piece I began doubting their judgement. "Mortal Bait" didn't hook me, and could have seriously benefited from a shave and a haircut.

While reading, I began to wonder if this anthology suffered from a pressing deadline. Passive voice and excessive pronouns in the stories made the work in this book seem like a mish-mashed compilation of rushed prose. Maybe my standards are too high, or maybe because I spent $19.99 on this bound copy I expected my money's worth. But by this point, I wished I'd just borrowed a used copy from someone instead.

Only because my previously mentioned writer friends stated an approval for this anthology, did I choose to press on to the fourth story in the group titled, "Little Shit," by Melanie Tem. FINALLY, here was a story worth reading! Definitely a tale worth my $19.99! This piece of work should have been the first story in the group. It started out at a fairly rapid pace and it kept me reading...not skimming...but actually reading. Pedophilia, psychosocial schemes and themes, borderline entrapment entangled in mind-reading webs...these ideas hit the pages with an intense wave that grabbed me as a real 'noir' story. Tem's pages gave me guilty pleasure and made me want to rip out the first 72 pages of the anthology in order to give it a proper start. Her work is a gem among ordinary stones, and it was a wonderful read. Because of her brilliance, I decided to keep this book instead of tossing it into my recycling, and I will brave reading more. What will I think of the rest? Stay tuned and I'll let you know. I'm not ready to give up on this anthology, yet.

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