Plow the Bones by Douglas F. Warrick
Genre: Adult Speculative/Horror Short Stories
Publisher: Apex Book Company
Release date: May 3 2013
Source: e-ARC from publisher
In a word: hallucinatory, disturbing & unsettling stories, carefully crafted with glimmers of humanity.
They have crafted sharp teeth for themselves from the tiny crystal bones of their dead and mounted them in their mouths. Was it painful? You’re goddamn right it was! Setting crystal spines into their soft tiny moth-gums, drawing fountains of their own blood, God, how they screamed and cried.
I’ve read some unusual short story collections this year (Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Revenge, and The Miniature Wife), but Plow the Bones is almost in a category by itself. I’ll admit I had to read this book in small doses. Each story by itself triggered goose bumps and an odd feeling of unease, the sort of unease that’s hard to explain. And so I drank this collection in small sips, letting each story settle in my stomach before going back for more. Like a bitter taste that nonetheless grows on you, the stories in this collection as a whole make up an impressive and award-worthy assemblage of monsters, damaged people, hidden rooms, and inanimate objects come to life. Here are some of my favorites:
Her Father’s Collection
An unusual ghost story about a man afraid of losing his beloved daughter, and so he devises a way to keep her with him forever, even after death. I found this story to be very sad but also a bit menacing.
The Itaewon Eschatology Show
Another story with an overall mood of sadness, this is also a good example of the unwieldy titles that Warrick seems to be fond of. I got a Clive Barker vibe from this story, about two men who perform as night clowns in Korea. The narrator, who is also involved with a prostitute, seems to be stuck between two different lives. I looked for a deeper meaning in this story but came up empty-handed. It made me wonder if I missed something, or if the author simply intended the bizarre quality of the story to be simply that: random events brought together for a short time on a piece of paper.
Come to My Arms, My Beamish Boy
One of my favorites, this is the story of a man with Alzheimer’s that is desperately searching for a lost memory of his wedding day. With the help of a ghostly visitor, he gets his memory back, but at a cost. A very affecting and poignant story about life, death, and memory.
Ballad of a Hot Air Balloon-Headed Girl
The title says it all: it’s the story of a girl who is certain her head is about to catch on fire, and so she crafts a hot air balloon envelope and attaches it to her shoulders, so she’ll be ready when it happens. When the narrator falls in love with her, he devises a way to reunite with her after she inevitably floats away.
And she kissed me. Our tongues touched, and I tasted smoke. Her mouth was hot like a stone beneath the sun and she tasted red and brown and old.
A strange but lovely story that gave me chills.
Stickhead (or…In the Dark, in the Wet, We are Collected)
Another head-scratch-inducing title, this story is pure horror. Not only does it contain a monster, like so many of Warrick’s stories, but it becomes terrifying because of the choices the human characters make.
I Inhale the City, The City Exhales Me
A manga artist’s drawings come to life as she draws, or are the drawings controlling her? It’s sometimes hard to tell in this story about the symbiotic relationship between an artist and her creations, but I quite enjoyed the mood and flavor of this odd tale.
Across the Dead Station Desert, Television Girl
It’s dirty in the between-world, a place made of screams, and she is always falling.
The longest story of the bunch, this was my favorite and probably the one with the most traditional narrative style. A company in a futuristic society has created the ultimate sex toy, Television Girl, a completely responsive Artificial Intelligence computer program that you can access through your TV screen. But Television Girl has found a between-world, a place that is neither her holding pen when she isn’t being used (the Shelter) or the bedroom where she is called upon to have sex. In the Dead Station Desert she discovers that she may be able to change her fate. I loved the hopefulness of this tale, and I adored Television Girl. It was a perfect ending to this unique and peculiar collection.
Some of the stories just didn’t work for me, but overall I was very impressed with the Warrick’s mind-bending vision and his skillfully written prose. If you are drawn to stories that explore the darker parts of human existence, Plow the Bones should not be missed. This first book in the Apex Voices series, created to shine a light on little-known writers of high quality genre fiction, is a promising start to the series, and I look forward to reading more.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Quotes were taken from an uncorrected review copy and may differ from the finished version.
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Come back soon for my interview with Doug and a giveaway of Plow the Bones!