Reviewed by Terry Gates-Grimwood

The great thing about the independent press is that it isn't ruled by grey-suits worried about the commercial merits (that's safety and blandness in plain English) of its output. As a result, experimentation and ideas are in rich supply. Bare Bone #7 is a prime example of a publication that allows its writers to play with ideas and concepts and give their imaginations full rein.

However, such collections don't always work and as much as I admire the breadth of ideas and talent in this volume, I found it to be somewhat patchy, its contents ranging from the sublime to the disappointing.

But first, the strengths of Bare Bone #7, and these are many. There are plenty of original, well crafted, dark tales such as the obsession-ridden The Script in which the employees at Jeff Somers' mythical call centre really do know the spiel - a little too well. Gary Fry's fictional paper, 0.05, describes a terrifying experiment in human violence, made more potent by the fact that it is based on an infamous true life experiment. John Sunseri's Household Gods is a clever fable that uses sharp comedy to present some powerful and deeply philosophical questions. In A Grown Woman Gary McMahon tells a darkly tragic saga about a string of unsuccessful relationships and their demonic outcome. An encounter with John R Platt's sinister circus performer in The Clown Walks At Midnight drips menace, and yet remains enigmatic, full of black hints. Fatty by Mollie L Burleson has shades of M R James and H P Lovecraft in its observational, rather than participatory, style of story-telling, but still manages to create the right amount of unease and malevolence.

It isn't all horror; the bleak side of life and society are revealed here, both in prose and in powerful poetry such as Blueprint in the Ghetto by Cathy Buburuz and David Bain's Rage, both of them an examination of the seeds of the perpetual violence that self-breeds in places of deprivation and fear. In his poem, The Ladder to the Moon, K S Hardy gives us an economical, yet strangely sad history of space flight to our nearest neighbour--or perhaps it isn't about that at all. How the Zombie Holocaust Changed the Holiday Shopping Season by Michael A. Arnzen is full of highly effective black comedy and suggested horror.

For me the disappointments were represented by such stories as In A Church With No Walls, in which Holly Day takes us into yet another group of sinister outcasts who exist among us. Perhaps they are vampires, perhaps not. The tale reeks of menace and a sense of threat, but it's been done before. The Ghosts of York by Mark Patrick Lynch is a beautifully written long tale that oozes the atmosphere of the city it features. It is subtle, careful, it unfolds at a steady place, but, sadly, in the end I found it empty. The point itself was sharp, but didn't seem to compliment such an excellent build-up. Mark Justice's The Café on the Corner is a disappointing yarn that, again, grabs my interest then lets me down with an unsatisfying sentimental ending. Spiders and Saints by E Sedia is a darkly humorous piece but, sadly, misfires. Pearlmutter by J M Heluk is sharply written and filled with menace, yet the Dr Seuss device fails for me and defuses what was an excellent turn-of-the-screw build-up.

So, as I said, an uneven publication, but one that I would, nonetheless, thoroughly recommend, because, regardless of the final outcome of its stories and their effectiveness, they are all works of unfettered imagination, fresh and interesting voices being given a hearing and deserving of your attention. And that is always a good thing.

Bare Bone, edited by Kevin L. Donihe and published by Raw Dog Screaming Press, Hyattsville, Maryland, USA. A5, 137pp, $9.95 (for UK price and purchase details please refer to website).

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