by Al Sarrantonio
“Ain’t you gonna ask me why I shot her in the back?” I said . . .
“Because her front was too far away!”
Here we have another solid collection from Mr. Sarrantonio, and while containing a number of excellent tales it falls a little short of his previously reviewed collection, Toybox. However, since Toybox was so freakin’ good, this isn’t really an issue.
The book opens with “The Ropy Thing”, also included in this anthology 999. It’s an excellent story involving a creature seemingly wiping out everyone except a young boy and girl. Another great, horrifying story, ‘In the Corn’, follows a few tales later, but the book seems to have difficulty finding traction in its first half beyond these two.
The second half picks up considerably, culminating in the disquieting novella, Hornets, which perfectly taps into our innate fear of insects. Also found within this second half is the jewel of book, “White Lightening.”
“White Lightening,” is about two young boys running amok on a moonshine-induced murder spree and somehow manages to instill the sense of glee the two youngsters are feeling as they go about their rampage. It’s strange to see the body count rise yet be tied to the laughing boys, experiencing their unapologetic violence as if we’re reveling in it as well, but the author somehow accomplishes exactly this. As they happily move from target to target, the story ends in a kind of showdown you’d expect and a twist you probably wouldn’t. And it once again explores a kind of inevitability of violence that has cropped up repeatedly in recent reviews. Chiliad and Wool both address this, though in longer form. “White Lightening” has boiled this theme down to its essence but is told in the rip-roaring style similar to Lansdale. There’s top-notch storytelling here, no doubt.
Overall this is a very positive horror collection, containing its share of so-so stories, lots of good ones, a good number of excellent ones, and one glittering jewel.