I don’t know about everyone else, but over here at anythinghorror.com I’ve made a few New Year’s resolutions. I’m not shooting for the moon and making unrealistic goals for myself, but there are definitely some things I need to work on in 2011. For one, I need to get my ass back in the gym and get back into shape … I’m no Harry Knowles over here, but I’m also not a Spring chicken!! My other main realistic resolution is that I have a stack of (hopefully) kick ass books that I’ve accumulated in 2010 and I wanna get through them all and post more horror book reviews on the website. Well I’m off to a great start with Alexander S. Brown’s TRAUMATIZED.
Personally I’ve always found short story collection difficult to get into. Just when you start getting into the characters and the plot BAM … the story ends and you need to start all over again with new characters and a different plot. I don’t know if Brown intentionally tried to overcome this problem but he does by not giving us too much useless info in the beginning of each story. For the majority of his stories he dives right into the story and doesn’t waste a lot of time “setting the stage” with unimportant details.
As the back cover of the book explains, TRAUMATIZED (a collection of 15 stories)exposes the depths of human depravity and the dank realms of [the] macabre.” With each story Brown intends to essentially “traumatize” his readers through examining various horrors in the world and the pure depravity some human’s can sink too. This is an ambitious goal and whereas the majority of Brown’s stories are captivating I don’t know if any of them actually left me traumatized (but then again I am pretty desensitized to violence and gore). Brown’s stories run the gamut. His stories include vicious creatures of the night, serial killers, voodoo curses, haunted houses, and religious freaks. Without detailing each story (there’s 15 of them) I can say that overall Brown presents excellent characterizations and plots that move along at a fast pace. There are times, though, when Brown gets a little wordy and too descriptive. The first story, “Bloodlines,” is actually my least favorite in the collection. Its the story of people gathered together at an old Southern mansion in order to find the hidden treasure buried within it’s walls. In “Bloodlines” I felt Brown drags down the pace of the story with too much description and I found it very difficult to get into the story. This is also the longest in the collection (clocking in at 48 pages) which would have benefited from some editing to tighten up the narrative and speed along the action.
But my concerns after reading “Bloodlines” quickly vanished after reading the other stories. The next two entrees “April” and “The God Complex” were tight, fast-paced stories that grabbed my right from the opening lines. “April” gives us a nice, dark twist about a girl who is experiencing black-outs every night and it seems the black-outs are becoming more and more dangerous to both herself and others. “The God Complex” is a really chilling story about how religious belief can cross into the realm of blind fanaticism. Both were very well written and “The God Complex” ends with us questioning everything that we just read in the story.
I enjoyed the majority of Brown’s stories in the collection and only found a few instances where his style felt amateurish, but I attributed this to him being, most likely, a new writer who was still finding his voice. There’s no info in TRAUMATIZED about when each story was written, but I would guess that the stories that weren’t my favorite were probably his earlier efforts. Some of my favorites are “The Acquired Taste,” which delves into the dangers of eating sushi; “Live Through This,” which puts a very creepy and disturbing twist on the story of a man obsessed with another person; “Two Miles,” the story of a mob boss who finds himself alone in a desert reliving parts of his life (Brown gives us an extraordinary characterization here); “Althea’s Last Dance,” in which a modern-day Jack the Ripper comes face to face with the supernatural; “Bliss Hill,” the best of his vicious creature stories; and “Zoe’s Swan Song,” about a rising Hollywood starlet whose external beauty ends up matching her inner beauty. This last story has, without a doubt, the best and deepest characterization with Zoe, and it’s also the goriest in the collection. We really get a sense of where she came from, who she is presently, and where she wants to be. Brown does a fantastic job with Zoe’s character.
If you’re looking for a solid collection of stories that are well written (let’s face it, statistically you’re gonna get a few in a collection of 15 that’ll leave you feeling “meh”), then pick up a copy of TRAUMATIZED. I’m not sure if Alexander S. Brown has published anything since, but I for one would love to read some of his newer writings to see how he has matured. Check this one out … you won’t be disappointed.
Author: Alexandre S. Brown
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars (for the overall collection)
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls (for the overall collection; 7 out of 10 for the story “Zoe’s Swan Song”)
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer