APPLE OF MY EYE
By Amy Grech
Reviewed by Lawrence R Dagstine
So I just finished reading Amy Grech's short story collection Apple of My Eye (aptly named after the first story in the book), and I must say that I come away impressed. Ms. Grech even autographed the book for me (thank you so much Amy if you are reading this). Is the reason for my being so impressed due to the fact that these sinister tales take place in the Big Apple, where I hail from? No. However, I will say this: I can definitely relate to the stories better because of it, and using New York City as a location and backdrop only adds to the richness Grech so successfully employs throughout almost each body of work. With a well-rounded command of the English language, adding some unique urban flavor, and maintaining a tight grip on the unexpected, Grech's Apple of My Eye makes for a believable, delightful, exquisite read from start to finish.
Oh, did I mention scary...?
First off, the book itself is a nice looking package: 128 pages, 13 short stories of varying lengths, glossy cover, laser-printed interior pages. American sizing brings it in at 5.5 x 8.5, softback. Ultra-thin and sweet. This is the kind of title you read on the train to work or home by yourself late at night. The front cover has a spooky eye inside of an apple against a vandalized street wall, and just below the wording for the title is the New York skyline. The publisher is Two-Backed Books (www.twobackedbooks.com ), an imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. After reading this collection and seeing what their production standards are like, I'm going to have to see what other authors they have available.
Like the book's title, we start off with Apple of My Eye. This is a story about a Village piercing shop girl who, after getting off work, dressed to the nines in her sexy red leather dress and heels, heads across St. Mark's Place to a bar in the Tompkins Square Park area to get herself a guy. Once there, she tries to pick up a doctor. The doctor tries to pick her up, too, but he notices wounds on her face, like someone's been slashing her with a box cutter. The girl, Gia, is okay with this. She tells the doctor that it happens all the time when 'Daddy' is angry. It seems she's used to getting cut. By the time they've hit it off and they've finished their rounds, she invites him back to her place. They head back through Alphabet City (Avenues A, B, C, and D), and it's here that Grech utilizes some of that urban flavor, describing part of the Lower East Side as being filled with druggies in doorways, and how hypodermic needles and used condoms line the gutters. This is partially true. Gia brings the doctor upstairs to her apartment and when Daddy interrupts them at play, the situation becomes sick and distorted and painful.
Next we have Come and Gone. This story is about a man who suffers in the sexual prowess department. His girlfriend dumps him because he can't keep her satisfied through the night. Yet he's able to maintain for at least an hour. How can that be? After his girl leaves, he runs around the house looking for appliances and toys to use on himself, perhaps improve his sexual stamina. Some of the things are reminiscent of sexual self-mutilation, but we never see him go that far. The climax shows us that this is not the case however. It appears the girlfriend is gone for another reason.
The next story, Prevention, was one of the few which I just couldn't get into. In almost any collection, there will be two or three shorts which may lack in some area, be it plot, characters, or overall storyline. In Prevention the prose was unconvincing, and it took too long to get to the action. And when I finally did get to some meat and bones, it was only so-so. Our protagonist, Doris Finch (an old mother), is picked up by one of her two sons, Simon, to go shopping. Simon is pretty much a criminal, the bad seed; Gerald is the good successful type. Think Cain and Abel. Doris's eyesight and memory have gone bad due to old age, and she often mistakes the two. Simon has been pissed off his whole life for his mother, who always regarded and favored Gerald more, not paying enough attention to him and being more of a supporter. The story suggests this might have been what made him go down a wrong path. Simon eventually leads his dear old mother to an abandoned basement in Hell's Kitchen and calls up his look-alike brother asking for a million dollars or you'll never see Mom again. The rest is pretty much a torture porn ride between Simon and his mother in a cold dank cellar. No real plot here. No real spoiler. And the only reason I say this is because I felt the story could have been fleshed out more, turned into something more substantial.
Snubbed was a slightly interesting rape meets revenge tale. A man leads his ex-girlfriend astray in Washington Square Park and violates her at gunpoint. Kathy, the protagonist in this story, goes to her girlfriend, Sandra, upset and looking for advice. Sandra suggests vengeance, and using a similar method of attack. Only she agrees to help Kathy in what becomes probably the evilest of ways concerning sexual revenge.
Other highlights to this collection include Ashes to Ashes, Cold Comfort, and EV2000 (which veers a little toward dark speculative fiction). In Ashes to Ashes, a woman is deeply reminded of her long deceased husband, whose ashes lie in a small heap in the corner of the basement, while she's doing the laundry. As the woman looks back with fondness at her married past, the question constantly looms if the ashes actually belong to her dead husband or if they are what they seem. The story takes a captivating, nostalgic turn into what I can only describe as ghostly but romantic.
Cold Comfort, one of the longest shorts, is the story of Jack, Sadie, and Jack's dead love, Mary. The impression I got was that Sadie reminds Jack of Mary, evident of the looks and right down to the clickity-clack high heels and walks in Central Park. Sounds eerie enough, right? But the story of a romanticized chance encounter taking an “obsessive” turn, eventually heading down a disturbing, but well-written path of homicidal tendencies by the hands of Grech, now that's downright freaky! Grech does a great job of putting us in both Jack and Sadie's shoes. She makes the reader identify with obsession at its worst, and with the turn of each page you can feel the tension building up for what was, for me, a very satisfying climax.
Damp Wind and Leaves is a fun, adventure-filled romp about a die-hard monster fan and his family who obviously haven't put their childhoods to rest yet, and probably refuse to; the same goes for Halloween hi-jinks and horror madness. This short was enjoyable for me on a personal level. Grech wrote it like she was paying homage to the Movieland monsters of yesteryear (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, etc); the toys and collectibles that were produced around them, and most of all, Monster Squad. Monster Squad, being one of my favorite children's horror films, runs in a similar vein as Grech's Damp Wind, so it not only held my attention from start to finish but also my appreciation.
EV2000, another lengthy short, comes with one of the most interesting plot twists in the whole collection. Plot devices, too. EV is a dark speculative tale about what appears, at first, to be an electronic blood bank operation run by androids in the near future. The bank is so technologically advanced, it can actually register both visiting and revisiting donors into a special system, thus finding out quickly if they have incurable diseases or illnesses such as HIV or AIDS. Grech wonderfully spins, what I thought to be, a tale about robots gone bad toward humans in a hospital-like environment, into a tale of vampirism and murder. Oh yeah, and foul play! Even better than that, the ending, when you find out how everything was conceived, and how the protagonist, Harold, ends up being used by the very system he donated to, and... Well, I'll leave the rest up to you to find out.
Ten out of thirteen were pretty good, and that's not bad. Actually, pretty darn excellent! And I'm only clueing you in on half the goods. Most of the stories have appeared before in both semi-professional and professional genre magazines over the years. EV2000 I remember from Apex Digest #5. But to own them all in one fine book, and by a commendable up-and-comer like Amy Grech, is worth my $11.95 any day.
Apple of My Eye by Amy Grech. Two-Backed Books paperback, 128pp, $11.95. Available from the publisher and various online outlets, including Amazon UK and Amazon.com
Website: - www.twobackedbooks.com
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