"Unpleasant Tales" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Eibonvale Press
Written by Brendan Connell
2010, 321 pages, Fiction
Released on July 19th, 2010
Brendan Connell's Unpleasant Tales is a collection of horror stories that bridge the gap between the scary and uncanny and the literary and cultured via very good writing and some of the most erudite prose out there. However, sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad and, in this case, the work is a tad overwritten at times and the prose strikes the reader as meandering on some of the longer stories.
The book, which contains 22 tales of varying length, can be divided into three separate groups: the great, the neutral and the uninteresting. The first group is composed by stories that leave Connell's fascination with body modification in the open, treat horror with unflinching honesty and explore the boundaries of beauty. The Maker of Fine Instruments, a creepy story about a man who becomes a stringed instrument, reads like classic Edgar Allan Poe with a slight bizarro twist; The Skin Collector, a classic tale of obsession, hidden agendas and folly, is short and brutal and makes the reader want to scream out a warning; Mesh of Veins, a hauntingly descriptive and accurate narrative about a man that turns himself into an entirely new being, reads like something a medical student on acid could've written. Last but not least, The Putrimaniac, a story about how some people find beauty in the strangest things, is one of the most unusual stories in the book and contains treats like this one: "When ugliness is taken to the limits, it turns into beauty." Also on this list is The Nasty Truth about Dentists, which reads like a modern version of a Lovecraftian tale, and The Last of the Burroways, an open-ended saga that easily draws comparisons to Victor Hugo's classic The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
The neutral stories are those that, although they're not special, are still worth a read if you enjoy strange literature with a scholarly twist. Some of the tales here make it very easy to identify Connell's influences. Touches of Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and even phrasing reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce and very early Robert Bloch can be found throughout these stories. Some narratives, The Girl of Wax and The Last Mermaid being two prime examples, almost read like a modern, creepy version of One Thousand and One Nights. Other stories, including The Tongue, which also has a bizarro slant, The Nanny Goat, which is sexy and sad at the same time, The Woman of Paper and Sirens are nice without being mind-blowing.
The third group is made up of stories that have no identifiable point and, even if they deal with subject matters like cannibalism, psychopathic killers and the murder of wild beasts, to name a few topics, fail to bring anything new to the table, convey a powerful, discernible message or leave an imprint of the mind of the reader. "The Black Tiger," for example, could be read as a short but deep rumination on the dangers of trusting a beautiful woman or simply as short violent story. Likewise, A Dish of Spouse can be seen as an unclear allegorical tale about marriage or as a short scene that belongs to a bigger story.
While the good stories in Unpleasant Tales are very pleasurable to read and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by readers who take pleasure in the twisty prose of yore, fans of modern horror's sharp, straight prose will find the book, which weights in at a hefty 321 pages, a bit wordy and the stories themselves a little old-fashioned. In other words, if you enjoy sophisticated fiction which is full of bits of knowledge, takes you around the globe and introduces you to previously-ignored medical, musical and zoological facts, definitely get a copy of Unpleasant Tales. If, on the other hand, you enjoy fast-paced horror that jumps straight at your jugular, like the work of Edward Lee, Robert Devereaux, Brian Keene or Wrath James White, you're going to want to skip this one.