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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: The Day the Leash Gave Way by Trent Zelazny

One of my favorite writers since my youth has been Roger Zelazny.  I learned he'd had a son, Trent (clearly, a name destined to write), who also wrote, so I dug deeper.  Of father-son writers--Kingsley Amis and Martin Amis, Stephen King and Joe Hill, Richard Matheson and Richard Christian Matheson--this may be the biggest leap in styles although both Trent and Roger are intentionally stylish in their prose.  Where Roger in smooth, Trent is jagged and rough, noir-ish and dark, very dark.

The title story is a true oddity.  It begins, "Sam was surprised twice over."  Double that, and  you'll come close to what's in store for the reader.  Sam carries prize money to the Kellys'.  Before he's even in the house,  a dead dog is tied to its leash on the back bumper of a car.  On the dog's hind leg, the Kelly boy has clenched his teeth.  That's only outside the home.  Inside we find the Kellys have had the mother stuffed.  Men in suits arrive to take her away, but Mr. Kelly won't have any of it.  "At least Sam, our protagonist, is normal," you might say.  Not really.  He might be the star oddity in someone else's story, but here he shines as a beacon of sanity.  Sort of.  If you're looking for normalacy, this is not the place to look.  Expect to be disturbed.

Another standout which should appeal to most readers is "Found Money"--also sold as a separate ebook.  Nick lost his job at the bookstore because he was accused of stealing money which he could not have had access to.  However, he does find an envelope with $3,087 inside.  It was intended to go to a hit man, but the inept mobsters failed to deliver, and the head mafioso is ticked, not to mention the hit man.  Poor Nick tells his buddy about the money who accidentally discusses the find in front of the mobsters.  A delicious light crime tale and a palate cleanser for the edgier stuff.

My theory of opening stories in collections is that it should introduce the writer to something iconic about the writer yet also offer as easy a transition as the writer's work allows from traditional narrative (unless all of the writer's work is experimental).  Trent Zelazny's collection opens with "Hooch," a story of low-class people looking for sex, booze, profanity, and violence, all of which inundate the story.  If you can't stomach Quentin Tarantino, your stomach will disgorge any Tarantino you may have partially digested.  In "Hooch," Tim wants to get boozed and lucky but he's not so sure about Darlene, the girl he wants to make it with.  They move to the playground.  Enter low-life jocks who engage in a boozed battle, where one hero does not make it out.  Two escape the frying pan into the fire.  The relentless intensity dims some of its impact.

This is followed by the torture porn of "Acupuncture" where a man overdoes revenge for a man having an affair with his wife.  It's interesting--two stories in a row with the amusing if depressing theme:  Life sucks, then it gets worse.

"Harold Asher and His Vomiting Dogs" introduces us to Harold and choir of vomiting dogs who perform on stage to the tune of "Singing in the Rain"--with another weird surprise, in store.

My favorite is probably "The House of Happy Mayhem" where the normal-seeming narrator subtly reveals himself as deeply odd.  We meet him in the park as he watches people--in particular, a married couple. He comments to himself on their inner feelings.  Gradually, we learn our narrator absconds himself not just in the private lives of these people, but also in their houses, listening to their arguments and marital indiscretions.  It gets worse.

Zelazny has given us a collection of dark materials--from crime to edgy horror.  Some of it is an acquired taste, but others should appeal to broader predilections.

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