The Monster’s Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyes
Christopher Golden, Editor
St. Martin’s Griffin
Trade Paper, 400 pages, $14.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
The point of view of so-called “monsters” has a place in horror history. From The Creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Hannibal Lecter, the perspective of the malevolent miscreant often is often a key part of the narrative. The Monster’s Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyes looks at the universe through blood red, rather than rose-colored, glasses. Editor Christopher Golden compiles tales that are oriented to the odd; slanting to the sinister, with an outlook to the outrageous. The yarns are generally very fine, although some don’t quite fit under the umbrella of the anthology’s theme.
Ghoul girls are the focus of two of the stories, “The Awkward Age” by David Liss and “Less of a Girl” by Chelsea Cain. Cain does an intelligently expressive take on adolescence: “Her bedroom door is painted the color of an infected sore, and is covered with posters of actors wearing fake vampire fangs. Last year the door was yellow, and papered with pictures of horses.” While appearing to be a mere Goth phase, there is more to the adolescent’s current interests than meets the eye. Graphic, gory, and laden with ambiguity, this is one hell of a tale.
Liss looks at another unusual fourteen-year-old, infusing his work with a sardonic cynicism. Playing with the spider and the fly conceit of the older man involved with the wise-beyond-her-years-ingénue, the work offers insights into what incites. Smart and cagey, “The Awkward Age” examines an extremely odd coupling; providing unappetizing food for thought.
Older women provide the menace in Sarah Pinborough’s “The Screaming Room” and Tananarive Due’s “The Lake.” Pinborough does a spin on the myth of Medusa: so abhorrent in appearance that the sight of her turns men to stone. In this version, seeing the gorgon’s visage doesn’t cause rapid degeneration into statue state. The transition takes time and, during that interim, the monster toys with her victims; debasing them, while getting aroused by their pathetic cries. For her the lamentations are lyrical songs. She thrives on the maniacal music.
A more contemporary woman villain is the teacher in “The Lake.” In an allegory for the infamous Mary Kay Letourneau case, writer Due takes the premise of a predatory educator to monstrous proportions. Here the crime goes beyond sexual misconduct with a minor. This is literally an all consuming passion.
And while on the topic of consuming, “Specimen 313” by Jeff Strand is a scrumptious story of making ends “meat.” Gene-spliced Venus flytraps communicate their discontent about being used as scientific experiments. In a wonderful opening paragraph, the protagonist plant’s dissatisfaction is noted: “Max, whose real name was Specimen 278, tried to be happy as he digested the arm. It had been a delicious meal for sure (he didn’t get to eat humans very often, so it was always a special treat), but he felt somehow unsatisfied. Not hungry, necessarily, just sort of … unfulfilled.”
Max’s enthusiasm and appetite get restored via his affinity with the eponymous Specimen 313; a kick-ass female carnivore. Their budding relationship flowers into a beautiful friendship.
Strange connections also crop up in “Torn Stitches, Shattered Glass” by Kevin J. Anderson, and “Breeding the Demons” by Nate Kenyon. Anderson integrates Frankenstein’s creation into a Jewish ghetto during the Nazi era. Tolerated and accepted by the community, the man of many parts again discovers that defensive- aggressive behavior isn’t socially acceptable. Rocking the boat, even when the vessel is sinking, draws unwanted attention. “Breeding the Demons” has been previously discussed in another review for Hellnotes. It is interesting to note that the cover of The Monster’s Corner states that the contents are “All new – never-before-published tales.” This is clearly an error on the part of the publisher.
The Monster’s Corner allows the reader to walk in the ungainly footsteps of those beings whose lives are hugely challenged by convention. Not all are sympathetic, but most are understandable in terms of motivation. The 19 narratives remind about the beast within, lurking beneath the intellectual surface. And of the possible terrors that may dwell next door, or in the closet, or under the bed; so familiar, and so hungry for acceptance … and other things.