Monday, June 08, 2009

UNCAGE ME: The Monsters among us

Uncage Me
ISBN: 078-1-60648-015-1
Editor, Jen Jordan
Bleak House Press.
Hard Cover, $24.95,
295 pages, 2009

This is a collection of short fiction about the monsters around us. Make no mistake, they are all around us. Monsters. It’s just that they act and even look like ordinary people. Like you and me. Mostly. But inside they aren’t the same as we. Are you?

Twenty-two stories, dark, bleak, unsettling, yet many are affirming in odd ways. You find yourself unaccountably rooting for whoever the central character is, even while you know that the end result may be—is likely to be—mayhem, murder along with painful destruction. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Twenty-two stories in five sections: The section headings are a useful indicator: Love Me, Lie to Me (Or Yourself), Get Back at Me, Fetishize Me, Destroy Me. Like any anthology, there are stories by some popular writers in the mystery community and by relative unknowns. Like most anthologies, the power and the quality of the stories is uneven. But all are moving, probing and persist in poking at raw basic emotions and attitudes; at emotions that are among the fundamentals of human existence. Attitudes are here in considerable variety, in all the colors of the visible spectrum. We all know that individuals vary widely in their world views. Authors are not immune from such variety. Whether the stories in this anthology are successful in changing some readers remains to be seen, of course, but there is definitely power here. and these stories have the potential to illuminate variances in our perceptions of the world around us as well. This is the mark of good literature, to not shy away from the bitter, from the blackness that often besets us. One can, I suppose, go to lengths to avoid that which challenges us, that which makes us exceedingly uncomfortable. One should, in my view, at least occasionally step outside our individual comfort zones. Put a toe in the icy water.

Some of these stories are deeply disturbing, “Fire Girl,” by Victor Gishler, “Ten Gallons of Infected Saliva,” by Scott Phillips. Others, not so, but the attraction of the collection is that each story is likely to affect the reader in wildly different ways. Whatever that may result, Uncage Me is a thoughtful collection worthy of careful attention. The collection is for the most part well-written and well-edited. I’m not prepared to offer an opinion as to whether the stories are well-chosen. Readers will decide. But you need to be ready to park your middle class attitudes about life and human relationships at the curb if you are going to truly appreciate these stories. When you park, be careful you don’t step in the blood running in the gutter.

On the other hand, you’re free to shut the door on stories like these. In my view readers who avoid this anthology will miss some powerfully visceral literary experiences. This is a challenging collection. An anthology with attitude. However, choice is what we’re all about, right? Just watch out for the ghoul hanging off your right shoulder there.

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