Monday, March 13, 2017

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online March 2017

The March issue of Flash Fiction Online breaks a little from the regularly scheduled programs to bring us a dive into the inky realms of horror. And indeed the three stories that make up the original fiction all take the ins and outs, the dos and don'ts, of horror quite directly, calling out the excesses of the genre while exploring what makes horror effective. What lets it in under our skin to crawl around and unsettle us. The stories here all look at tropes and at clich├ęs. But instead of stopping at the surface, they delve down into why horror works and how it fails. Who it harms and who it seeks to destroy. It's a powerful and creepy issue and I'm just going to get to those reviews!

Art by Dario Bijelac
Stories:

"The Girl Who's Going to Survive Your Horror Movie" by Barbara A. Barnett (995 words)

I’ve seen a few stories recently that have taken direct aim at horror tropes and this is another rather fun one, told from the point of view of a woman resisting being drawn into a traditional slasher. The voice of the piece is rather wry and jaded, aware of the myriad ways that horror films seek both to force people into bad situations and moralize their victimization. So it’s nice to see that the main character isn’t having any of it, and that she’s able to guide her and her friends past the easy pitfalls of this horror movie that’s stalking them. Of course, things aren’t exactly that easy, as they’ve been sidled with a “friend” who seems designed to draw them into conflict and are susceptible to things like needing gas for their vehicle. But the mood of the story is defiant, is conscious of the way that these stories work and refuses to give those narratives power or respect. The main conflict then becomes whether or not the horror movie is going to get them anyway. The story doesn’t exactly answer that, and for me there’s just a sliver of doubt because of how far the horror movie has managed to get. They are in some ways on its turf, subject to its rules, and I like how that is handled, that even being prepared they are still vulnerable, safe only as they come together, only as they refuse to be driven apart. Together they are able to withstand the advances of this B-movie plot, but only together. The story, to me, acknowledges that only those who have other people to band together with are safe. Which means that many might not be able to resist so effectively. But for the main character and her friends, they’ll probably be fine. An interesting read and a fine way to kick off an issue dedicated to horror!

"Dos and Don'ts" by Paul DesCombaz (958 words)

This is a nicely evocative bit of horror that frames itself as a sort of guide. A guide where the reader becomes observer to the actions and actor in the terror that unfolds. At least, the story puts the reader, the “you” character, into a place where you must watch. Where you are told what to see and what not to see and what to do and what not to do. The voice of the story is the voice of command, and it’s from that authority that a lot of the horror of the piece comes from for me. At least, I feel that the story plays with our tendency to trust these sorts of do and don’t guides without really questioning them. Here, from the very first command, things seem innocent enough, and the reader might tell themself that there’s nothing to fear, that things will be all right in the end, that the guide won’t let you down, let you fail. But the guide portion of the story also cheats, imploring the reader to just walk away from the story, and I like that little twist, that the story has its own sort of rules that the reader must understand but also break to keep going, and once that violation of the rules happens then the reader becomes something of a prisoner to the story, trapped as things get more and more away from you. And I like that rising tension and creepiness, the way that there are monsters without and within and that (for me at least) I couldn’t help but feel responsible for some of it, like I had done it. Which is pulled off nicely, making the reader complicity and blamed, like a character in a horror movie, deserving what happens next because you “broke the rules.” It’s another story that looks at tropes but also does a great job of building horror through the language and the imagery, through the use of this monster who the reader may or may not let loose into the world. A great read!

"To Comfort the Headless Child" by Matthew F. Amati (755 words)

This is…a weird story. About cycles and twisting and pain. About comfort in a world that seems to offer no real comforts but only the hiding of the trauma. The ignoring of it. And in many ways it’s about children and neglect and damage. The plot is a bit difficult to follow at times because so much of the story is a bit sing-song, like a nightmare nursery rhyme, where the child in question is crying and won’t stop regardless of how the parents try to throw solutions at it. They talk in cliches and affirmations that don’t really mean anything. Which, for me, points to the way that parents ignore their children, relying on “conventional wisdom” to win the day and try to fit every situation. Hoping that they can put forth the minimum effort to just…fix things. Not all parents, but those in this story are certainly a terrible kind of problem, basically just robots that spout the same failed solutions over and over again when really the solution might be to seek to understand what’s wrong. Instead they just push the child through life, creating a damaged and damaging individual who, in turn, gains a sort of power over not only children of his own but his parents. It’s a difficult story and not just because of the style and the voice. It’s difficult because it’s raw and twisted and filled with the nostalgic comforts of childhood cast in sinister shadows and terrifying lights. It’s a neat way to examine parenting and aging and comfort, and is a nice way to close out the original fiction in this horror-tinged issue!

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