Blood and Other Cravings
Ellen Datlow, Editor

Tor
Hardcover, 320 pages, $25.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

Horror and hankerings synthesize in Blood and Other Cravings. The 17 tales compiled in the anthology deal with unspeakable urges; sinister sensations that demand satiation. There are appalling addictions and alarming afflictions. Perpetually astute editor Ellen Datlow oversees the compilation, which features fine stories from an impressive array of writers. The general high quality of the yarns permits only a brief discussion of a handful of selected works. Hopefully, this will provide at least a savory smidgen of what lies within the book’s pages.

The object of obsession in Lisa Tuttle’s “Shelf-Life” is an empty dollhouse that demands decoration. An unhealthy attachment ensues as child’s play yields to creepy compulsion; a spooky synergy is spawned. Tuttle creates a subtle sense of pensive foreboding. The opening is poetically stunning and psychologically shrewd: “Everyone should have a dream, of course. Yet I wonder if dreams shouldn’t have a ‘best before’ date woven into their fabric, a warning that they’re just as perishable as the food that sustains us. Because you can sniff milk or meat, see the black or green spores of mold on bread or cheese that’s been kept too long, but with a dream, it’s harder to tell when time has turned it sour, or even toxic.”

Emotional toxicity in sexual relationships is examined in the narratives of John Langan and Steve Rasnic Tem. In Langan’s “The Third Always Beside You” an extramarital affair leads to startling revelations. Two adult siblings are aware of on-going issues in their parents’ union and accurately suspect that dad had a romantic liaison. The offspring speculate about why their folks never separated, and ultimately uncover the identity of dad’s lover: The woman is deceased, but she lingers; forever a part of the marriage’s past and present. Haunting for many reasons, the story’s last paragraph is shocking and splendid.

Tem’s tale, “Miri,” concerns another woman who woos and provokes woes: “Her face was like that Ezra Pound poem: a petal on a wet black bough. Now detached from its nourishment, now destined for decay.” The male protagonist is a tormented individual, trying to reconcile his family life with the memory of Miriam; a girl who sucked his soul into a literally colorless universe. Wanting to use his artistic eye as a world view, the central character finds that Miri has sapped him of iridescence in perception; she’s reduced him to hues of black and gray. This isn’t just a metaphor, the gal is beyond Goth: “It occurred to him she smelled differently. Under the perfume was a kind of staleness – or gaminess, for lack of a better word. Like a fur brought out of storage and warming up quickly.”

Steve Rasnic Tem does a brilliant job evoking a seduction that drains and debilitates. His wife, Melanie Tem, equals him in excellence in her poignant and tough contribution entitled “Keeping Corky.” In this extremely touching story, a mentally challenged young woman gives up her baby for adoption. As the years trickle by, like sand in a sieve, the mother doesn’t forget her child; she may lose track of time, but the intensely focused love remains. Like a psychic umbilical cord, there is a tie that is so profound that it hurts. Severed by bureaucracy and her limits in parenting skills, the nurturing instincts still remain alive. Fixated on the son that she relinquished, she hopes for eventual communication and connection. Melanie Tem touches the heart while embracing the mania. It is a difficult balance to achieve, and one’s sympathies swing back and forth. Distilled, “Keeping Corky” addresses the passions of feeling that must be overridden by pragmatism, when push comes to shove. Shattering and soulful, this fits perfectly into the “cravings” element of this collection’s title.

Blood and Other Cravings is comprised of mostly new tales; two are reprints. The stories contained in the volume dig deep into fetishes, fascinations, and frenzies that are all consuming. This fine compilation provides a penetrating and intelligent look into the dark recesses of the mind; those yearnings and yens that can lead to distraction and destruction.

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