BARE BONE #8

Reviewed by Steven Pirie

The striking cover art makes for a very favourable first impression of Bare Bone #8. The enigmatically named 'Scatterhertz' wields a fine pencil, and I found myself studying the cover for longer than is usual before delving inside. The book itself is a perfect bound trade paperback, and at 137 pages, with nineteen short stories and eleven poems, its price of $9.95 surely represents decent value for money.

Most of the tales are character driven, and all have been constructed with obvious care by their authors. Of course, personal preference means I liked some more than others. I'll not summarise all of them; instead I'll try and pick out a representative sample of what's on offer. I will go as far as to say there are no poor stories here; all have merit in their own right, and all are worth looking at.

All The Pretty Girls by Ronald Damien Malfi provides a strong opener, even if it is of a theme that's been done many times before. It follows the madness of a serial killer who believes his actions to be justified by God; albeit with a twist at the end that hints there are indeed higher and darker forces at work in motivating the killer. Despite the fact that I felt I'd been there before, the strength of the writing carried me through and it was an enjoyable read.

Mal De Mer, by Robert Dunbar, is a surreal tale of age and aging, of care and selfishness, of loving and losing, of the sea and the monsters that may lurk beneath.

As you can possibly tell, I found it difficult to find the exact message of this tale, but in a way it ebbs and flows, and I found it easy to let the words swell over me like the waves. And so while I wasn't entirely sure where the currents had taken me, I had no doubt the journey was an enjoyable one. I read the tale several times, and whilst there are moments of drama, each time I came away feeling soothed. An odd tale, but well worth looking at.

Awry, by Kendall Evans, is one of the shorter tales in the anthology. 'I was a witness the day that the flowers began to spin' is an opening line which again suggests this is a somewhat surreal offering. It's an interesting examination of normalcy and change, just the right length at a couple of pages to make its point and leave.

On the first read through, The Manners of the Beast, by Brandon Alspaugh, seemed to bounce scenes around too much for my liking in a short story. I found it hard to follow exactly what was going on, what with a menagerie of talking animals to cope with, too. Indeed, it seemed a little pretentious, quoting Japanese philosophy in single sentence sections. But on a second read it all fell together and I was able to appreciate more what the author was aiming for and what was going on. If you feel the same way my opinion is it's worth persevering with this one and give it a second read.

Underground, by CC Parker, is the somewhat explicit tale of the unfortunately named 'Charlie Smear', who by day lives out his maniacal fantasies whilst working behind the counter at the video store. This is probably a bold inclusion by Editor Kevin L Donihe, given that the tale is borderline pornography. Not that it doesn't have merit--it's well written and performs well, and borderline pornography probably lends itself to horror more than any other genre--but it does feel stylistically different from the other stories in the book.

A Prayer for the Silent, by John Suseri, I felt to be one of the best stories in the anthology. The arrival of apparitions who feed on intelligible sound has left the human race necessarily mute. It's an odd notion that we could live without uttering any semblance of spoken words, one that intrigues me (though surely nothing could shut the wife up :-), and one that sets up an interesting tale leading to a stark choice at the end--to shout out or not to shout out. It's a tale of ultimate defiance when hope no longer remains.

There are several Whisperers in Bare Bone #8. The ubiquitous Gary McMahon has the tale Why Ghosts Wail, and Gary Fry's offering is Illuminations.

Fry's tale, not surprisingly, is set in Blackpool, and deals with coming of age issues against a strong-willed (read obnoxious?) father and within the tensions of the 'annual family outing to the lights'. A collision with a tram sees young James Smith embark on a dark adventure in which his family members take on horrific forms and the garish backdrop that is Blackpool (even without such tramly collisions) is used to full effect. That the promise of a new, assertive James emerges at the end gives the tale a satisfying conclusion.

McMahon's tale is a cynical piece bemoaning the dearly departed's lot in seeing death in life, that the two are really a part of the same decay process. Interesting imagery certainly entertains in what is essentially a downbeat story. Look out for a ghostly herd of BSE culled cows (I never, ever thought I'd say that in a review: thank you, Mr McMahon :-). Such torture in watching one's loved ones waste away. No wonder ghosts wail indeed.

Steve Redwood's in there, of course. How this dastardly Whisperer slips into all these publications, well... must be because he's a damned fine writer, I suppose. Phantom Verdict wins 'Line of the Book Award' with: 'His well-behaved penis would politely doff its cap and slide in and out of me...'. A literary offering from Mr Redwood--it even has a header written in French, why not?--the tale oozes atmosphere--'Hair that swirled dervish-like across her face... eyes that flashed with the glint of a magpie's wing.' And there's a sadness here as our unnamed narrator desperately seeks that which she's never had, knife-wielding and consumed until all that's left is a 'mutilated old man's body' and a wealth of tears. A fine effort from Mr Redwood.

There's much else to applaud in Bare Bone #8--Matchmaker by Eric Shapiro, Soft Construction with Boiled Bean by Paul A. Toth, Eat to Live by Brian M Simmons, are all worth your attention--but probably too much to detail here.

The final story is Jeff Strand's Glimpses. It's a fine exercise in minimalism that charts several characters' lives from birth to middle age, written in short, separate sections. I truly liked this tale, but why it stopped when it did instead of carrying on until death puzzled me. It also changed direction a little as it proceeded, becoming more the focus of a series of crimes rather than the life in miniature it seemed to be when the tale began, as if the 'glimpses' became full blown stares as we progressed. This is not so much a criticism as more my wondering why. The tale is logical throughout, and there's no reason why the author shouldn't go this way.

Though hardly qualified, I must also mention something of the poetry in Bare Bone #8. One poem in particular--Bad Ending #10:The Funny-Book Maker, by John R Platt, tells of a comic writer who ultimately writes to his demise by using his own blood for ink. It has the delicious, simple postscript: 'It was never published'. Displays a fine humour, I felt, if not inducing many a wise nod from all of us writers.

My congratulations to Kevin L Donihe; you've put together a fine issue of Bare Bone. If this current offering is indicative of the standard of the previous seven, then clearly I've missed out on a decent series. Back issues, sir?

Full Table of Contents:-

Fiction:-

All the Pretty Girls - Ronald Damien Malfi

Mal De Mer - Robert Dunbar

Awry - Kendall Evans

The Manners of Beast - Brandon Alspaugh

Underground - C C Parker

Behind Glass - Simon Stranzas

The Rapunzel Field - Mark Patrick Lynch

A Prayer for the Silent - John Sunseri

Matchmaker - Eric Shapiro

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans - Paul A Toth

Contact is Everything - C S Fuqua

Americana Calling - Philip Tinkler

Illuminations - Gary Fry

Howling Strawberry Pie - C J Henderson

Phantom Verdict - Steve Redwood

Why Ghosts Wail - Gary McMahon

Eat To Live - Brian M Sammons

Name This File - Albie

Glimpses - Jeff Strand

Poetry:-

Mob Hit - John Hubbard

Bad Ending #10: The Funny-Book Maker - John R Platt

Beside the Killer - Daniel C Smith

Molten Sun - Jeremy Ewing

The Limp Node - Jeffrey A Stadt

The Carpet Otters - John R Platt

Cajun Creeps - John Hubbard

Bloody Genesis - Steven L Shrewsbury

Two Poems - Oliver Baer

Tears - J R Cain

Identity - Charlee Jacob

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). Also available from Project Pulp

Website: - www.rawdogscreaming.com


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