Author: Michael Gore

Publisher: AuthorMike Ink

ISBN: 978-0985214661

Some of my earliest reading pleasures were derived from collections of short stories in the horror genre. Compilations from magazines like Weird Tales first exposed me to the talents of Ray Bradbury, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Charles Beaumont and others. The stories were dark, decidedly non-mainstream, and tapped into areas of alienation and fear of the unknown with which teenagers readily identify.

Michael Gore’s collection of short stories is a successor to this tradition. The phrase “not for the squeamish” is a familiar one used to hawk and hype stories and films within this genre, but in this case, the warning certainly applies. “Blood Soup” is the tale of a woman who hopes to ensnare a potential lover with the aid of a homemade love potion. “Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite” relays how a woman one might describe as a “shut-in,” literally, fends against an infestation of insects, her sense of paranoia amplified by the alarmist reportage of 24-hour TV news outlets. This story is basically a one character story (with the exception of a couple of intrusions), and its to the author’s credit that he is able to develop the suspense within the limitations of this framework.

Both of these stories follow a narrow, single-minded trajectory. In the case of “Bed Bugs,” the first story in the collection, this approach succeeds because of the claustrophobic setting and lack of outside diversions. The writer builds and builds on the premise without relief, piling on horror after horror, like a demented dentist drilling at a raw nerve. This same approach in “Blood Soup” becomes overkill, which is a shame, because the female character is well developed and the story could have gone in several different directions, but instead advances toward the bloodiest resolution. Is it a statement on obsessive love or lust? Perhaps, but one apparently designed to appeal to an adolescent sensibility in its graphic depiction, becoming predictable well before it ends.

Not all of the stories progress like a death march toward a blood-spattered ending. “Cotton” is an interesting change-up, a sketch of a bereaved man lamenting the loss of his wife and daughter. There’s a surprising twist at the end, one which would work better had the writer described how the loved ones came to meet their end. And “The Man at the End of My Bed” instructs as that the dead, although scary when they reappear, can sometimes be of service to the living.

There are no acknowledgements indicating that these stories have been published elsewhere, so we can assume that this is an original collection. One of the downsides of self-publishing and forgoing a review by an outside editor is the loss of the benefit of constructive criticism. There is potential in these stories, and it would be interesting to see how they might have been polished up with suggestions in the plotting, development, and even basic proofreading with the aid of a seasoned editor. The writers mentioned in the first paragraph (well, maybe with the exception of Lovecraft) all benefited from that collaborative process.

Michael Gore possesses a vivid imagination and a fearless approach to his subject matter. I could see his becoming a major voice in the horror genre. I just hope that he finds a kindred collaborator who can help elevate his stories to a higher level.

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