"Bones are Made to be Broken" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Dark Regions Press
Written by Paul Michael Anderson
2016, 438 pages, Fiction
Released on November 4th, 2016
Every now and then in our chosen genre, a storyteller comes along who’s so incredibly good you know immediately that you’ve discovered something special. For me, those authors include such giants as Laird Barron, the great Jack Ketchum, Poppy Z. Brite, and the incomparable Stephen Graham Jones. And in the last few years we’ve had the great fortune to be able to add some new names to that list; rising stars such as Michael Wehunt, Stephanie M. Wytovich, and J. Daniel Stone come immediately to mind, as do Daniel Braum and T.E. Grau. And now, just when I thought 2016 couldn’t get any better or more exciting than it’s already been, along comes Paul Michael Anderson, one of the most extraordinary, freaky talented writers I’ve encountered in the last decade.
My first experience with Paul Michael Anderson’s work was in the Grey Matter Press anthology, Savage Beasts. His story, “Crawling Back to You,” which also begins this new collection from Dark Regions Press, is a prime example of what Anderson does with all his writing. He has a tendency to take on a subject or theme and make it into something entirely new and, even in that story, which takes on a familiar trope, he manages to create a fresh, satisfying tale unlike anything you’ve read before. From there, the work gets less traditional and you really begin to see what makes this author stand out from the crowd of young authors working today.
There’s so much good going on in Bones are Made to be Broken that it’s hard to know where to start talking about it. My inclination and desire would be to tell you something about every single story because they’re all outstanding and there’s something special to be found in every single one. But there isn’t enough space or time to do that, so I’ll just touch on some of the things that I believe are most important. In a lot of ways, Paul Michael Anderson reminds me of the legendary Ray Bradbury with a little Kafka tossed in there to make things bubble. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it’s far from it. Everything he writes, no matter how horrific, is always tinged with a sense of wonder sometimes bordering on awe, and there are tales here that truly embrace a Bradbury-esque sensibility, most exemplary of which is “A Small Town with Very Clean Streets.” It’s an account of a crash landing on a mining colony planet that quickly moves from mildly strange to sublimely weird and sneaks up to the dark border of cosmic horror without ever actually crossing it.
Another thing that really stands out about Paul Michael Anderson is the decidedly Outer Limits feel to a good number of the stories. You find yourself reaching a point where you almost begin to expect each story to start with: “There is nothing wrong with your TV set.” For those few of you who aren’t familiar with that show, another one that Anderson’s work is somewhat analogous of is Black Mirror, which can be found on Netflix. Like that mind-numbing show, there are stories in Bones are Made to be Broken that will seriously mess with your head, particularly the titular novella included near the end of the book. But that’s not the only one that’s likely to do that. The stories “The Universe is Dying” and “To Touch the Dead” are two more that will really get under your skin and set your flesh to tingling with goosebumps.
Overall, Bones are Made to be Broken is a collection of fourteen tales of science fiction and horror that will exceed any expectations you may have. They make you think and fill you with wonder and you find them still with you long after you’ve read them. Anderson’s narratives are peppered with some of the most emotionally moving, poetic prose I’ve read in a long time and I can’t even begin to express how much I love this thing. It’s a four-hundred page tome of dark dread and marvelous spectacle, each story more powerful and moving than the one before while never outshining each other or failing to impress and enrapture the reader. Anderson has a way with turns of phrase that are nothing short of amazing and here he’s created for us a collection that surpasses sublime on its way to beauty and brilliance. I came into this thinking that Stephen Graham Jones’ incredible novel, Mongrels, was my favorite book of 2016 and I still think it’s one of them, but the final honor goes to Paul Michael Anderson. Bones are Made to be Broken is hands down the best book I’ve read all year and probably my favorite single author collection of the last decade. If you haven’t read his work, you need to go get this thing. Don’t wait. You never know when you might die and you don’t want that to happen before you’ve read it.