Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Eclectic Slice of Life

In the previous review, Gillian Pollack kindly illustrated for the reader where the genesis for this collection sprang from. From 2007 onward, editor Craig Bezant sorted through his kaleidoscopic tree of stories to bring us the best Eclecticism E-Zine has to offer in a broad and wide ranging print edition - the first from his newly hatched small press Dark Prints Press.  Featuring a cover illustration of finely stacked antique books, this nostalgic approach reflects the new metamorphosis from computer to paper. A kind of reverse de-evolution that will please an all-new readership of Craig’s dark little e-zine.

The collection is composed of three parts: Dark Little Oddities, Fantastical Twists, and Obligatory Dramas.       

We kick off with Iron Efficient by Simon James - a worthy opener and one of the standouts in the collection. At its centre a small domestic revenge tale, the author uses a familiar setting and objects to highlight the need for change in an abused woman’s life: one of those guilty pleasures where the antagonist gets his just desserts. Simon also has another highlight here with Pieces – an absolutely confusing mishmash of story but it can be read for the highbrow prose alone. In what is one of the only forays into science fiction territory author Joseph D’Lacy contributes Drone … a beautifully rendered post-apocalyptic landscape of primitive human transmutation but in a magical and revolutionary setting.

Fantastical Twists present some of the first stories I’ve read by South Australian Jason Fischer. Both Houndkin and The Ward of Hours take on mythological creatures set against eccentric backdrops: one in a hospital ward that lies at the nexus of time. The prose is mature and effortless … and it’s easy to see the argument for his success. The segment also presents one of the more bizarre but attention-grabbing stories: Prodigal Son by Mark McAuliffe. This is the tale of Tony Andrews, who returns home to his mother after a life of crime seeking forgiveness and shelter. But what she has in store for him is something rarely encountered in fiction.

I was somewhat apprehensive about approaching the last section – Obligatory Dramas - and for the most part my concern was well-founded. Having not read many dramas (short fiction or otherwise), at all over the past few years I didn’t see the need for any to be included in an anthology primarily speculative. Or why, exactly, they were obligatory. That’s not to say all the stories were poor. But I kept waiting for a punch-line that simply didn’t happen. For example, the story Audrey’s Fall could merely be described thus: A woman who might have a brain tumor goes to the hospital. And that’s it – there is no other redeeming merit to it. The Shopkeeper by Eril Riley is a painful slog about a Ukraine immigrant living in Melbourne. His dog perishes and he buries it. As an honest reader giving my reaction, I would have to describe some of these as ‘A bunch of stuff that happens’ with no literary payoff. That said, there were some gems nestled among it – namely Lost in the City by Julia Bannigan and The Workman’s Pandora’s Box by Myra King.  

In the aftermath of putting this debut book down I can candidly state An Eclectic Slice of Life as a whole is a worthy publication. Perhaps not as dark as some of you may expect, but I have the feeling visceral horror is not what our editor was aiming for. With this and the e-zine (of which small amounts of poetry are included), the stories aim to shift the reader into another foggy realm … perhaps not a terrifying one, but certainly lopsided and jilted at the edges. This is only the beginning for Dark Prints Press, and it will be interesting to see where Craig takes us with his forthcoming publications Surviving the Dead (March 2012), and The One That Got Away (February 2012).