Michael Knost & Nancy Eden Siegel, Editors
Hummingbird House Press
June, 2013; $16.95 PB
Reviewed by Josh Black
Barbers & Beauties is an interesting book, to say the least. It’s an anthology by four male authors and four female, presented as a flipbook with each gender taking one side (and here the brilliant cover art by Cortney Skinner must be mentioned). Jointly edited by Michael Knost and Nancy Eden Siegel, it’s the fledgling publication of genre newcomer Hummingbird House Press. Taking beauty as the ostensible theme and running from there, each author gives their own unique spin, with themes varying widely from one story to the next.
Starting off the book’s Beauty Shop side is Raven’s Charm, by Rhodi Hawk. A Prohibition-era tale of tragedy and wish-fulfillment, it’s centered around the titular beauty shop, a kind of supernatural speakeasy. The characters here get what they pay for, and pay dearly for what they try to ignore.
Roberta Lannes’ Into the Looking Glass is an insidious little tale that follows a beautician with the ability to read people’s thoughts. The works of Jack Finney and Ira Levin come to mind here. There’s a new family in town, and classic shades of small-town paranoia permeate the story as it draws to a bittersweet, fitting conclusion.
In Fran Friel’s lushly atmospheric The Grid Walker, true beauty and ugliness lurk beneath the surface of the world, awaiting those with the unique ability to see them. The story has the feel of a modern fairy tale, darkness and all, as one gifted man follows his newfound path.
Lisa Morton closes the Beauty Shop side with another tale of small-town terror in The Willowstown Women’s Cut and Dye Club. This club isn’t nearly as innocuous as its name would suggest. Drawn in shades of gray and frightening in its realism, in this story the abused become abusers, with help from a little outside influence.
The Barber Shop side gets its start with Gary A. Braunbeck’s A Little off the Top. This strange and pathos-laden addition to his Cedar Hill mythos casts new light on the horrors of the Salem witch trials, by way of a barber who’s much more than he seems. It’s an effective and chilling story of one man’s atonement paving the way for another’s rebirth.
Tim Lebbon’s The Gleeful Ones, a tale of race, class and vigilantism, is set in a world resembling a steampunk-infused fever dream. Smart and stylish, in the guise of dark superhero fiction, it explores issues concerning humanity in a world becoming increasingly inhumane.
Kealan Patrick Burke’s The Palaver is by turns blackly humorous and horrific (some of the imagery really gets under your skin). Set mostly during World War II, it’s about a barber and the residents of a small American town, embroiled in a clash of good and evil. Past deeds meet present day in the wraparound segment that begins and concludes the story.
Rounding out the barber side of the collection is Lee Thomas’ In the Time of Thunder and Blood. Echoes of Clive Barker resound in this pitch-dark, visceral trip through the L.A. metal scene of the 80’s. Blood, sweat and tears is no mere expression here, as one band member strays from the flock and carves a path of his own.
Some of the offerings are stronger than others, but that’s a given in any anthology. While each story may not please everyone, there’s something here for fans of dark fiction of all kinds. Knost and Siegel have compiled a fine collection, and it’ll be interesting to see where Hummingbird House Press goes from here.