"MalContents" Book Review
Written by Randy Chandler, Gregory L. Norris, Ryan C. Adams and David T. Wilbanks
2011, 189 pages, Fiction
Released on September 28th, 2011
Diverse, varied, manifold. All those words mean the same thing, so pick whichever one you like best and that's precisely the best thing about Gran Mal Press's MalContents, a collection of four novellas by authors with styles as divergent as their contributions to the book. Is it a horror book? Yes, but it also has a healthy dose of science fiction, some humor, and plenty of bizarre elements.
The book comes out of the gate strong with Randy Chandler's "Howler". The story starts with some robbers creating chaos inside a brothel. They stumble upon a creature covered with hair and release her in hopes of saving her from life as a prostitute. Setting the wolf-girl loose turns out to be a big mistake. After that day, the girl and another prostitute join a freak show to get away from their past. However, what they end up finding in that new existence is weirder and more dangerous than anything they encountered in their previous life. With unspeakable evil messing with the wolf-girl from inside a jar, young love rearing its head for the first time, plenty of violence and a touch of dark humor, "Howler" is probably the best narrative in the collection.
Things stay in dark and bizarre territory with Gregory L. Norris' "The Mushrooms". In this tale, Sunny Weir is a cooking show host who becomes the victim of a jealous chef who didn't get into one of her reality shows and decided to take revenge by stabbing her in the chest. While she quickly bounces back physically, the psychological and emotional aftermath of being stabbed and lying on the floor in a puddle of her own blood while curious folks stared at her naked chest proves to be much harder to overcome. A few days later, she learns that the woman who attacked committed suicide. When Weir takes some time off and goes to a house she owns on a small island, the ghost of her attacker follows. Strange things will happen before the bad blood between Weir and the spirit of the woman who stabbed her is settled once and for all. An uncanny homage to 1980s creature features, this one is as dark as it is entertaining.
Ryan C Thomas' "Choose" is the third story in the collection and is definitely the darkest. Peter Barker is a family man who fixes computers for a living. One day, he is assaulted by a mysterious stranger that gives him a choice: kill his wife or daughter, or the stranger will kill them both. The unknown assailant seems to know something about Barker's past. When he realizes the strange man is not joking and learns just how useless the police are in this situation, Barker grabs his family and runs. The move proves pointless and the family will end up submerged in a very dark world of fear, death, revenge and decisions.
David T. Wilbanks brings things to a close with "The Outsider Trio". The story follows Malcolm Ehrlich, a man who quits everything and goes in search of his lost love. However, the woman Malcolm loved has disappeared and he enlists the help of a shaman to find her. The two men will enter, literally and figuratively, a dangerous world of demons, hidden dimensions, sinister songs and evil plans. While there's nothing wrong with the premise and Wilbanks' writing is solid, the narrative is too rich in elements for such a short story. There are different demons, doors that open into other dimensions, doors that open from those other dimensions into yet other places, lost limbs, magic, and much more. While enjoyable, it would've worked better as a novel.
MalContents is an entertaining compilation and its mixture of darkness, horror, humor and uncanny elements make it worth a read.