Halloween is creeping up once again, and the pages of the frightful new fiction collection Behind the Mask from Bantam don’t offer much in the way of hope. There’s the familiar grisly monsters, vampires, ghosts and werewolves, but also a few newcomers: pedophile pedophiles, pederasts, necrophiliacs, and sundry mutant cops, prisoners and cannibals. Also on the screen are one-handed cops and nanny killers and a 100-foot queen lizard who steals its prey from inside its own body.
This is fiction we can read. We can grab a copy, sink into the arms of our armchairs, and get inside the heads of the bad guys.
But these books are too much.
Whether it’s the miserable repetition, or the non-use of a proper adjective or adverb, or the affectation of everyday language, they all run the risk of making you want to gag.
There are several four-word sentences alone that leave the reader (or, in this case, writer) too confused to make any sense of it.
“Diet supplements were, again, his divine right.”
“It was a beautiful day. You brought out a candy bucket.”
“You were sick to your stomach.”
“This is really going to mess with your head.”
“You know what this is? It’s one big attack,” added Dowling to the body count.
“It was you. How sad.”
“Eating the Kippers was actually the most badass thing about us,” Willems told the jury. “That man has no balls.”
“Is your car greased?” The vicious black-and-blue blood drive ran into the guard station, galloping straight for Tom, son of Judge Jenkins, the guilty owner of the car, who was writing a name on the scrap of paper.
Some books are scary enough to send you looking for your safe place and tucking your head into your chest.
In Grief is the Time to go to Sleep, for instance, a bitter younger girl strikes it rich when an old wealthy neighbor dies, pushing the gate open. Pics of her comes flying through, and she likes them so much she actually captures more than $3 million as she says adieu to the world of white slavers and rural slavery. The money is in a mysterious basket, never to be seen again and now, it seems, to belong to Grief.
At the end of Grief Is the Time to Go to Sleep, Grief hangs out in her old boarding school — hard-scrabble and rough-and-tumble — but she no longer has the money to pay the truancy fines. Her father has died and she can’t visit him at the mortuary or get a ticket. Her boyfriend is only too glad to abandon her. And, of course, there’s the presence of pederasts, murderers and necrophiliacs all around her, all the time.
These characters have nothing good to say. They brag and want to do all sorts of mean, nasty things. They engage in rites that say nothing good about anyone, and merely encourage one another to get into even more trouble. They call their filthy, sick fantasies “holy” and fling themselves at those who fail to believe, or have ceased to be able to.
It is no wonder that children are the only innocents left.