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Reviews by Avi Abrams
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Jack O'Connell
"The Resurrectionist" (nv)

© 2008, Algonquin Books
--/ fourth place f novel
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award

Themes of redemption and forgiveness glow throughout the fabric of this essentially noir narrative, melding together two wildly separate storylines - one half of this novel can be enjoyed as a dark paranormal medical thriller (channeling the best of Dean R. Koontz or Robin Cook), and the other half is a rich, colorful trip down Ray Bradbury lane (or more recently, Katherine Dunn's surreal world of "Geek Love"): following a group of sideshow freaks on their way across darkly-shaded land to find their true selves - the lyrical, sad tone enriches the visions of the grotesque and finds a way to the reader's heart, to the point that this "Limbo" part of the story can be considered a masterpiece of "New Weird" in its own right.

Not all is seamless in this book (this is partly why it reads like a wildly swerving motorbike ride). Some parts of the novel seem jumbled together like jigsaw puzzle pieces that do not quite fit, but are forced in anyway. For example, the ending contains some deep allusions and metaphors that ask to be expanded upon, and the final pages come way too quickly - one is left with half-substantiated emotions and unsatisfied longings, which might even be termed as sheer "confusion"... but, boy, does this novel reads like melancholy Bradbury sometimes! Some critics say that The Resurrectionist "transcends reality and redefines noir"; I would not go that far, but I have to admit that I was entirely charmed by the protagonist's story and lovable freaks' encounters with ruthless people and cruel landscapes... The book leaves a solid bittersweet aftertaste, prompting long reflection on themes of identity, grace and redemption - a lingering and haunting effect.

"Part classic noir thriller, part mind-bending fantasy, The Resurrectionist is a wild ride into a territory where nothing is as it appears. It is the story of Sweeney, a druggist by trade, and his son, Danny, the victim of an accident that has left him in a persistent coma. Hoping for a miracle, they have come to the forbidding, fortresslike Peck Clinic, whose doctors claim to have “resurrected” other patients who were lost in the void. What Sweeney comes to realize, however, is that the real cure for his son’s condition may lie in Limbo, a fantasy comic book world into which his son had been drawn at the time of his accident. Plunged into the intrigue that envelops the clinic, Sweeney’s search for answers leads to sinister back alleys, brutal dead ends, and terrifying corners of darkness and mystery."

Buy it from Amazon, the novel also has a website: Enter the Limbo.

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Will Elliott
"The Pilo Family Circus" (nv)

© 2006, Allen & Unwin
--horror novel : 2007 Aurealis W (tie)
--novel : 2007 Ditmar W
--novel : 2007 Int. Horror Guild


Clowns, madness and mayhem - but we saw all this in the "Dark Knight" already, didn't we? I've had enough psychotic clowns rammed down my throat this year, thank you. Critics are quite happy about this book - "an entertaining mixture of Palahnuik and David Lynch" - but I found out that I'm strongly allergic to demonic clowns, and black comedy of this sort is largely lost on me (too obvious?).

In Australia this book co-won the Aurealis for best horror, won the Golden Aurealis for best novel, the Australian Shadows Award, the Ditmar, the ABC fiction award and the Sydney Morning Herald 'Best Young Novelist of the Year' Award, was also short-listed for the 2007 International Horror Guild Award - the consensus is overwhelmingly positive, even though the clowns are intensely gaudy and disturbing, and there is no escaping them.

"Jamie is plunged into the horrific alternate universe that is the centuries-old Pilo Family Circus, a borderline world between hell and earth from which humankind's greatest tragedies have been perpetrated. Yet in this place peopled by the gruesome, grotesque and monstrous, where violence and savagery are the norm, Jamie finds that his worst enemy is himself-for when he applies the white face paint, he is transformed into JJ, the most vicious clown of all. And JJ wants Jamie dead...."

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Brian Evenson
"Last Days" (nv)

(based on "The Bortherhood of Mutilation")
© 2009, Underland Press
original novella: 2003, Earthling Publications


Brian Evenson can be effective in shorter form, and I suspect the original novella was more intense - but this exploration of dark religious waters is not the best of its kind (maybe because I was spoiled by reading Norman Spinrad's magnum opus "The Process" back in 1983)

"After losing a hand in a sting operation, Kline, a detective, finds himself unwillingly dragged into a secret amputation cult... a grim, darkly hilarious riff on blind obedience and pointless self-sacrifice". Brian Evenson's past involvement with Mormonism gives this creepy story an even creepier sense of becoming reality, and slaps a gut-wrenching indictment on cults of all sorts - but again, I found this effort a bit heavy-handed and lacking in subtlety.

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Tom Piccirilli
"Ice On Heated Steel Script"
© Chiaroscuro # 19, 2004
--/ fourth place dark f story
--/ shock value
--/ rare find


Tom Piccirilli went on to win bigger battles in the literary world (he is a best-selling novelist right now), leaving behind this wretched, miserable, and yet strangely adorable hunchback of a tale, almost like a "your favorite idiot you love to hate": a nuclear tooth-paste to pollute your literary sensibilities, to warn you what to sink your teeth into and what to avoid. Certainly, like ungainly swamp-roots poetry, this lunatic tale shimmers with unexpected brilliance in the murky waters, revealing nuggets of style, however well concealed by bizarre violence. Recommended.

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"The Neverending Search" (Art copyright David Ho)


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