"Traumatized" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee Pattee
For the longest time, John imagined scenes of a man in a mask and rubber apron approaching his bed at night with an old rusted saw ready to dismantle any limb. – From "It's All True"
Written by Alexander S. Brown
2008, 314 pages, Fiction
Image created by Ann Brogdon for the short story "It's All True".
Up-and-coming authors on a small press label are not unlike up-and-coming low-budget filmmakers on an indie label. Both have a story to tell, both are honing their craft and both make the most of what they have — filmmakers in the form of actors/equipment, authors in the form of editors. Sometimes the final product is great, sometimes not, sometimes a mixture of both. Traumatized, Alexander S. Brown's anthology of tales of, well, trauma, is a mixture of both.
Like most anthologies, either written by one author or many, Traumatized has good stories and mediocre stories. Unlike most anthologies, Traumatized has one distinct, underlying problem — Brown's use of the thesaurus. He needs to put it down. It seems what Brown is trying to do — be it consciously or not — is make each sentence better than the last. This is certainly admirable, but what ends up happening is instead of great prose, you get a hodgepodge of superflous words your brain stumbles over as you read. Every noun does not need an adjective.
The pisser is the majority of the stories in Traumatized are superb, idea-wise. Hell, many of them even feel rushed because I wanted more from them. Stories like "Bloodlines", the first in the book, have a fantastic slow build up, then it's as if Brown got an idea for another story and decided to wrap it up quickly so he could get his new thought to paper. This is a shame, too, because "Bloodlines" — one of the best tales in the book — could damn near work as a novel, if only fleshed out. (Yes, I'm completely aware of the irony of bitching about the book being to wordy, only to complain the stories aren't long enough.)
"Bloodlines" — a tale about a group of strangers called to a mysterious house by a mysterious man for an intriguing proposition — is interesting as it shows both Brown's strengths and weaknesses, all the while succeeding to be a good yarn. Even with the previously mentioned word usage issues and problematic pacing, "Bloodlines" still packs a lot of atmosphere and tension within its pages. That's the frustration of Traumatized, you can easily see the talent of Alexander Brown centimeters under the surface. All he needs is an experienced hand to pull him up and guide him to the shore — whether this is in the form of a seasoned editor, advice from a more experienced author or just time, I don't know. Regardless, there is obvious skill within Brown, it just needs some direction.
There is a healthy variety of stories in Traumatized. A deadly sushi makes people go mad in "The Acquired Taste" — which, is somewhat reminiscent to Richard Laymon's One Rainy Night in both its topic and tone. "The Acquired Taste" is a fun, quick read as you are put right into the action from the first sentence, and it doesn't stop moving until the last. On the flip side, "The End of Summer" has a nice, slow burn that takes its time. The story's too-quick ending hurts it some, but the preceding pages are just enough to save it.
"Two Miles", while a bit predictable, is another story that could have been elaborated on. Following a man who may or may not be evil along his two mile walk through purgatory, reliving the awful things he's done, the story itself has been told time and time again, but Brown easily makes it enjoyable. So much so, I was left wanting more — and it really does seem like there was more, but was cut out.
Out of the 15 stories, my favorite is "April". Ironically, it is probably the worst story in terms of technical skill (one particular paragraph is a jumbled mess that I had to read three times before I got what Brown was trying to convey), but one of the characters reminds me of my sister and how she treated me when we were growing up. (Although I never slept with a knife under my bed.)
"It's All True", a close second favorite of mine, is about a writer who decides to sleep in a reputed haunted house — which is never, ever a good idea. "It's All True" is another fine example of the campfire-esque mood Brown can create. I had no problems envisioning this house of horrors once doubled as a hospital during the Civil War, or the blood lining the rooms where numerous amputations were performed. The story drips with ambiance, and I couldn't help but think it would be a great movie, and it could be fleshed out for even more terror.
At the end of the day, even with the flaws and the majority of stories not fully realized, I have a lot of hope for Brown. His stories kept me engrossed, and there is something to be said for the fact I was disappointed some stories ended too soon. Brown is already able to deliver a healthy dose of atmosphere in most of the stories in the book — something that is not easy to do in the written format — and his characters are unique enough to be memorable. With a $19.99 (plus shipping) price tag for the trade paperback (the hardback will run you ten bucks more) at Xlibris, it's really tough to recommend a purchase for Brown's sophomore novel, but if you see it at the library, certainly give it whirl. I have a feeling, however, I will be pimping Brown's books in the future, should he tap into his potential. It's certainly within his grasp.
Image created by Ann Brogdon for the short story "Two Miles".
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