Thursday, July 17, 2008
Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales
Here’s another book that I read because of Hypericon. Before I get into the meat of it, a little background on acquiring it. I met the author, Fran Friel, the first day of the convention. She is as nice and sweet a person as you could ever meet; I doubt if anyone would say an unkind word about her. I decided there was no point in buying her collection of short stories, Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales. Anyone who is that cheerful and kind probably writes stories about sweet little fairies and children who play with puppies, right? So I bypassed the stack of Mama’s Boy at the Apex table.
The first reading I went to was a mass affair, with Laura Anne Gilman, Ron Kelly, Steven Shrewsbury, James Newman, Deborah LeBlanc, and Ms. Friel. My notion of what Ms. Friel’s writing would be liked changed when she read her story “Gravy” from the collection. It’s a twisted take on a man’s obsessive pursuit of the perfect gravy, with a nice Hitchcockian ending. Both the story and the performance were fabulous (if you would like to see for yourself, I urge you to see the video of the event at my friend John Hornor Jacob’s site), and the next day, at the charitable auction, I turned in the high bid on the book, along with a print of the cover art.
This was a wise decision on my part, because this is a superb collection, one that’s sure to be on the short list for the major awards later in the year. Apparently the reason Ms. Friel is such a good person is she exorcises her demons through her very dark stories.
The collection starts off well with “Beach of Dreams”, a very surrealistic story that starts off with monsters washing up on the beach of a Pacific Isle, and captures the chaotic nature of the dream-state better than anything I have ever read. After that comes the afore-mentioned “Gravy”, and then a story called “Mashed”, where Friel turns something as ridiculous as a fear of potatoes into a classic horror story.
“The Sea Orphan” is, of all things, a pirate story. This is the first piece in the book I can criticize: It should have been a novel. I got so wrapped up in the characters, I wanted to know what happened afterwards. A gripping story. “Orange and Gold” is a non-supernatural short-short I found heartbreaking (I love mutts), and “Under The Dryer” extends the theme as a brave dog fights to save his family.
The shortest story in the collection is “Close Shave”, a shiver-inducing 55 words, while the second longest is “Fine Print”, a nice tale about a man who unwisely signs a contract without reading it.
The highlight of this great collection is the title piece, the novella “Mama’s Boy”, which was nominated for a Stoker Award, and very deservedly so. It’s a roughly hundred page story about a young psychiatrist interviewing a serial killer about his crimes, including his deviant relationship with his own mother. Ms. Friel is unafraid to take the story to the ultimate in depravity. It’s destined to be a classic.
Gary Braunbeck does a better job of it in his introduction to the book (of course), but I’ll say a word about the structure of the collection. I can’t remember when I’ve read a collection of short stories where the stories flowed so organically from one to the other. Long pieces to flash fiction, each story launches from the previous one.
This is not a collection to be missed. It is destined to take its place among the finer horror collections ever published, and you can pick up a copy through The Horror Mall or from Apex Publications.
The book closes with the author’s comments on each story, a feature I always find fascinating.