Review: Unseaming by Mike Allen (Antimatter Press; 2014)

20 Oct


“The Button Bin” is a disorienting and brilliant piece of disturbing horror fiction. Its fragmented, intuitive structure bends reality on a number of levels: a traumatic sexual experience between half-siblings, drug addiction, and an odd supernatural entity that controls people by warping them into beings immersed in a chest of semi-living buttons. The use of second person makes you complicit in the shifting seas of alternate realities this masterful and terrifying tale inhabits.

“The Blessed Days” are those on which we awake still entwined in passion, a blood not mine own risen to the surface of the skin. There were strange medusas of veins and flesh growing out of bathtubs, but then we knew the blessing was merely a trance one’s blood shawl could jump and shy away from, forever withholding a kingdom of nails.

In “Humpty” we encounter a terrifying, Chucky-like stuffed toy version of the cherished figure from the nursery rhyme; however, this is an evil doll who can also take our narrator into a variety of alternate dimensions, all with macabre consequences having already occurred…but not necessarily irrevocably. A creepy and original tale–my second fave. after the (probably) unsurpassable “The Button Bin.”

“Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” takes place on a farm where beauty marks morph into nefarious spider-like appendages. An odd, crop circle-like spot in the field proves to be an ominous deflection but also a sort of mysterious portal as this cosmic horror tale pulls together dispersed fluids and body substances of our narrator’s loved ones to suggest a scientific/body horror approximation of a religious experience.

“An Invitation Via Email” is incredibly funny in its casual, cavalier approach to extreme occult and Satanic sacrificial ritual. One might also note how coyly Allen cc.’s one of the emails to since his work is heavily indebted both to Ligotti that Lovecraft in equal measures.

“The Hiker’s Tale” is another fractured, intuitive horror tale featuring deep-in-the-woods, ghostly mysteries and echoes of Hansel and Gretel. I had the same feeling at the end of this tale as some of the others: a few disparate narrative threads (some in other time periods, dimensions, or consciousnesses) weave together by the story’s end to form a disorienting, confounding, yet entrancing mosaic.

“The Music of Bremen Farm” ends with a spectacularly phantasmagoric and hallucinatory scene that is funny and nightmare-inducing, like many masterful scenes in horror (Sam Raimi’s horror films and An American Werewolf in London come to mind). The image of the smiling donkey chomping into a police officer’s hand is not one I’ll soon forget.

“The Lead Between The Panes” continues the odd story structure established in the earlier tales in the collection; the dead never really die because the deaths in these stories are unusual, traumatic, but maybe also in the end not really deaths at all but disappearances into alternate dimensions, other realities, or in the clutches of malevolent spirits and monsters: whatever figures Paul saw through the stained glass window in the barn would never let his claw-clamped ankles go and return to life once he started laughing with the spiders.

The pun in the title of this collection (Unseaming) is more suitable the deeper one progresses. “Stone Flowers” opens with the description of a rare medical phenomenon in which a woman can carry an unborn child for decades that becomes calcified (stone) in the womb while she remains capable of having more children–even though each subsequent fetus must gestate in the prison of her womb beside a haunting dead stone sibling as terrified expressions are frozen forever to imprint onto the souls of all the other passing passengers. Yet the dead–in this decade-hopping tale and others in this collection–don’t much like to stay dead, even when of the stone variety.

In “Gutter” we encounter ghosts of the traumatically murdered yet again, but this one has a more hardboiled noir/Gotham flavor. As a policeman’s mind unravels, so too does the morality and trust in those surrounding him.

“Condolences” is an odd and bleak tale wherein the title word becomes terrifying due to its blandness and insincerity but also because a mysterious noise begins to sound, the meaning of which is never logically explained.

“Let There Be Darkness” was told by an angel or god with a religious tone. It felt more like a monologue than a story(never a bad thing) about a skewed reality seen through prism-ed eyes.

“The Quiltmaker” is the longest and most ambitious(besides “The Button Bin”) piece in this collection. Told from a variety of perspectives and bending reality on multiple levels, this tale is masterful; I kept thinking of it as John Cheever on acid, but it also has a Hitchcockian feeling…even when it morphs into extreme body horror or Allen’s unique plague-spirit/dissociative-structure style. At some moments an eerie spirit narrates, having existed before but changed and hyper-charged by the conflicts and terrors it collects from the denizens on this suburban street as it seethes through them.

“Monster” is the final tale in this collection, and again features an unnerving voice that verges on reflecting the actual state of being a ghost or other malevolent spirit that still seems tied (but is perhaps in the process of fraying away) from a human host body.

I enjoyed this collection from an original new voice in short horror fiction.

Check out Unseaming by Mike Allen.

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