After the success of his last anthology, there’s considerable anticipation for Michael Marshall Smith’s newest book of stories, Everything You Need (August 23;Earthling Publications). But considering the British author’s strong cult following, it’s surprisingly hard to track down some of his best stuff.
His white-knuckled Straw Men trilogy is no longer in print, despite the fact that it was originally released as recently as the early 2000s. His 2003 collection, More Tomorrow & Other Stories, was published in a limited edition by Subterranean Press. In spite of its rabid acclaim and International Horror Guild Award for Best Collection, copies of More Tomorrow are hard to come by unless you’re willing to pay a premium price for a used book. Similarly, Subterranean is releasing Everything You Need as a signed, hardbound limited edition of 1,000 copies, so if you’re a Smith fan, you might want to get in on this action while the getting’s good. (Although the $45 price tag may be daunting to non-collectors.)
Of the 17 stories featured, only four are original to this anthology, while the remainder are reprints. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Everything You Need collects several of my favorite Smith stories from the past few years. In “Sad, Dark Thing”, a mourning wanderer stumbles across a most unusual roadside attraction. In “Substitutions”, a mistaken grocery store order leads to a harrowing neighborhood confrontation. In what is perhaps my favorite story in the collection, “The Stuff That Goes On In Their Heads”, a boy’s tale of schoolyard bullying compels his father to meet with his teacher, with unpredictable, and ultimately shocking, results.
And therein lies Smith’s greatest strength as a storyteller: his ability to take a common everyday occurance like a bullied child or a marital argument and take it someplace unforgettably macabre. Reading a short story by Michael Marshall Smith is like slowly opening a piece of intricate origami only to find a bloody fingernail hidden inside one of the paper folds. Consider yourself warned.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Skulls