[Book Review] ‘The Monster’s Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyes’

Now in stores from St. Martin’s Griffin is “The Monster’s Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyes”, an all original anthology from some of today’s hottest supernatural writers, featuring stories of monster’s from the monster’s point of view.

In most stories we get the perspective of the hero, the ordinary, the everyman, but we are all the hero of our own tale, and so it must be true for legions of monsters, from Lucifer to Mordred, from child-thieving fairies to Frankenstein’s monster and the Wicked Witch of the West. From our point of view, they may very well be horrible, terrifying monstrosities, but of course they won’t see themselves in the same light, and their point of view is what concerns us in these tales. Demons and goblins, dark gods and aliens, creatures of myth and legend, lurkers in darkness and beasts in human clothing…these are the subjects of The Monster’s Corner.

Check out Ryan Daley’s review inside!
When it comes to horror anthologies, I cling to the sentiment originally expressed by Craterface in 1978′s Grease: “The rules are, there ain’t no rules.” It’s a good rule of thumb that makes a fascinatingly uneven anthology like The Monster’s Corner seem even more nonsensical. This is a book that establishes “rules” for the sole purpose of breaking them.

First off, the subtitle, “Stories through Inhuman Eyes”, seems to indicate that every tale will be told from a monster’s perspective… except they’re not. The perspectives are all over the place, human, monster, Medusa, plant, whatever. Second, Christopher Golden, who also edited the superior zombie anthology The New Dead last year, uses up half of his introduction word count avowing his deep, abiding love for all monsters…before backpedaling to disavow the “real killers” that are out there. So for the record, Golden doesn’t dig all monsters, just the pretend ones. Thanks for the clarification, Chris. And last, in editing this anthology, Golden’s rules include “no vampires, no zombies” and he “discouraged human monsters”. But human monsters, some who could easily be “real killers” in the “real world”, are certainly included in The Monster’s Corner. The good, bad, and ugly, this book has got ‘em all. I can appreciate the use of a running theme in a horror anthology, but the bullshit rules don’t serve much of a purpose here.

What results is a surprisingly literary horror anthology packed with stories that are bold, experimental…and boring as hell. Well, most are. Curiously, the handful of genuinely entertaining stories are back-loaded into the last half. It’s like a reading list from a lit professor who saves the best shit for the kids who manage to last the whole semester. While some readers may crave the deeper aspects of horror, I look to the genre for pure escapism. That being said, here are a few of my favorites:

The Awkward Age (David Liss)

Liss, author of the much-beloved Benjamin Weaver novels, delivers a haunting tale of forbidden temptation as a married man is seduced by his young son’s jailbait girlfriend…who claims to be a ghoul. Builds tension effortlessly even as it stumbles toward an overtly abrupt ending.

Specimen 313 (Jeff Strand)

Easily the funniest (and most purely entertaining) entry in the anthology, Strand’s story depicts the flirtatious relationship between two carnivorous plants trapped together in the lab of a mad scientist. As the scientist’s progressive cruelty pulls him deeper down the crazy-straw spiral of madness, the plants are forced to take matters into their own leaves in order to survive.

The Lake (Tananarive Due)

More than any other story in this collection, The Lake brings to mind those old-school, Charles L. Grant-edited horror anthologies from the 80s. But to call it “basic” would be an insult; Due’s story hits all the horror high-notes in just the right places, and although it telegraphs its ending well in advance, its too well-written and engaging to ignore.

The Other One (Michael Marshall Smith)

Not horror, exactly. More like a deliberately paced Twilight Zone episode that builds to a snappy twist ending. I’ve admired Smith’s slow-burn writing style since checking out Straw Men, his 2002 debut novel, and this story is no exception.

Less of a Girl (Chelsea Cain)

Probably my favorite story in this anthology, only because it stuck in my brain like a shard of glass. I simply could not shake this tale, in which an unsupervised play date takes a decidedly horrific turn. I know Cain’s novels are popular enough to earn a mention on shows like True Blood, but I’ve never read any of her work until now. One thing I love about anthologies is their ability to introduce the reader to new voices. After reading Less of a Girl, Cain landed a spot at the top of my scouting list.

“There are monsters, and then there are monsters,” writes editor Christopher Golden in his somewhat specious introduction, alluding to the “real killers” he despises. “You can have sympathy for how the monster became the monster without having sympathy for the monster itself.” Yeah, whatever. Sometimes I don’t care about the monster’s existential fucking journey, I just want to be scared. The Monster’s Corner leans more toward sympathy than scares, and although a full third of the stories rock pretty hard, the remainder are too contemplative to be entertaining. Check your monster angst at the door and give me some thrills, man.

3/5 Skulls