Hi everybody! I’m Janice, otherwise known as Scarina from scarina.wordpress.com. I responded to Andrew’s call for reviewers and he agreed to let me review. I normally write about movies but I’m always looking for a good spooky book to read so this feels like a good fit.
My first review at The Books of Blood is Gristle and Bone by Duncan Ralston, a collection of seven short and novella-length stories. Ralston writes about modern trends and issues like veterans returning from war, the nature of viral videos, ultra-realistic violent porn, browser-history paranoia, foodies, and freegans, with an often sarcastic, spooky eye.
“Baby Teeth” deals with an infertile couple and the power of wishes. The story features body horror that wouldn’t be out of place in a Cronenberg film.
“Beware of Dog” is one of my favorites from the collection and could stand to be a full-length novel. It’s a page-turning story about a dishonored veteran returning to his childhood home. Dean Vogel, the vet, ends up facing his childhood bully and understanding the secret his small town is harboring. Ralston captures the suffocating nature of small-town living and the story has a Stephen King feel.
“Viral” is probably the weakest story in the collection. The protagonist, Tara, is investigating a viral video of a teenage girl disappearing. Literally, disappearing on tape. The concept itself is spooky. Unfortunately, the story suffers from a tendency to tell instead of show. Tara thinks about the sexism she faces in her job as a journalist when it would have been more effective to show what she had to face.
“Artifact (#37)” deals with the dangers of exploitation and shows what happens when the exploiters become the exploited. The story follows a group of guys who make super-realistic violent porn and shows what happens after one of their stars is killed. The vengeance is gory and satisfying but the story suffers because the pornographers are all so similar that it’s hard to keep track of who is who.
“//End User” has this really great sense of humor that I loved. What does your browser history say about you? Mason Adler, the story’s protagonist, has to face what happens when his PC becomes sentient. The story manages to point out how utterly connected our lives are by the internet. There’s this sense of paranoia but it also manages to be incredibly funny. Adler’s PC is voiced by Jenna Jameson, because it figured she was the most important woman to him based on how much he looked her up.
“Fat of the Land” is about an upscale restaurant with a sinister secret. The story illustrates Ralston’s ability to create protagonists that the reader doesn’t necessarily like but still finds interesting. June tends to be snobby but I was still interested in her journey. I just wish we got to see more of the sinister, Lovecraftian creatures that are hinted at but never fully revealed.
“Scavengers” is my other favorite story in the collection and I really wish it were a full-length novel. The story is told from the point of view of the older couple living next to Jim and Leanne Taymor, as they find out the truth about the series of grisly murders recently committed by the Taymors in their small town in Nebraska. The villains are called “Frugaltarians” in the story but in real life they would be Freegans, people who reject consumerism and gain their food by dumpster diving. “Scavengers” shows the after-effects that tragedy can have on a small town and also connects with the internet-age paranoia demonstrated in “//End User.” You could really see the truth about the Frugaltarians lurking on some Creepypasta page. Overall, the story is page-turning and leaves you wanting more.
Ralston’s stories are all independent but all deal with an overarching theme of people facing their pasts, whether it’s miscarriages, bullying, or the voices of those who raised us. The people in Ralston’s stories all have past issues and, sometimes for them, at least, maybe it’s better if the past stayed in the past.
The author is good at making you care about unlikable characters. June and Tara, in particular, are incredibly prickly but you still find yourself caring about their fates. He’s also good at describing visceral grossness. There’s a dark humor to some of his stories that’s very enjoyable. His main weakness is that some of his dialogue tends to be clichéd.
That being said, Ralston’s stories are still terribly interesting and I look forward to reading his full-length stories.
Pick up a copy here: http://amzn.to/1Jq7ndS
Book Cover Blurb:
Short and novella-length dark fiction from the twisted imagination of Duncan Ralston. BABY TEETH After doctors tell her she can’t be pregnant, Candace learns that not every child is a gift. BEWARE OF DOG Disgraced soldier Dean Vogel returns to his hometown and confronts the bullies, and a horrifying event, from his past. VIRAL A reporter uncovers what really happened to the latest internet sensation, a troubled girl who disappeared on camera. ARTIFACT (#37) Gonzo pornographers learn a brutal lesson following a tragedy they inadvertently caused when life imitated “art.” //END USER Anti-social conspiracy theorist Mason Adler’s life is turned upside-down when he begins receiving eerily personal and prophetic spam that could be heralding the Apocalypse. FAT OF THE LAND A couple discovers the secret of a tourist town’s prosperity may lie in its sinfully delicious cuisine. SCAVENGERS When successful restaurant owners Jim and Leanne Taymor confess to a grisly series of small town murders, their neighbor learns the gruesome truth that led them to kill. In Knee High, Nebraska, someone–or something–has been stalking household pets in the dead of night… but would they rather be hunting us?