Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: The Gaki and Other Hungry Spirits by Stephen Mark Rainey

My second title from Dark Regions Press in as many weeks, this is the kind of collection that I knew would appeal to my personal macabre predilection even before plunging into the first tale. A glossy novella, The Gaki and other Hungry Spirits is short and sweet but interspersed with stories lean on dialogue and heavy with sensory description. Here, Stephen has tasked himself with bringing to life the hungry ghosts of Japanese Buddhism. And although each story is decidedly different, there is still a pertinent theme running though the whole like slivers in a larger current.

With our first outing The Gaki, Rainey gives us the first person narration of David, a questing soul who seeks out a cabal of kindred spirits who gather by the banks of the Cooper River to keep their pious burnings alive. It is here that David encounters that wandering spirit … and the consequences of being marked by one. It’s a fitting opener, displaying intelligent writing with Lovecraftian suggestions for the modern audience.

Stories that stood out: Festival of the Jackal (Off Broadway) – this is the sort of prose that bites with subtle comedy, our protagonist making astute observations about the mire of the modern world before a chance encounter with some New York demons alters him into something more primitive and bestial (but somehow more attractive), than any 9-5 suit-wearing ass-clown. Similar to other stories here, it’s like a cross-pollination of Bret Easton Ellis meets the message of Clive Barker. Terror from the Middle Island (in collaboration with Durant Haire), takes us back to the Territory of Wyoming over a century ago and a priests homecoming to the site of a massacre that claimed the life of his grandfather. Not only does the Reverend stir up old ghosts, he encounters an ancient deity not of the cross but still worthy of devotion. Other outings like Demon Jar, Abroyel, and Free Sample all bear the marks of a mature dark fiction author with credible prose.

There are many collections today with a hit and miss ratio; disparate tales shoved together that obviously do not belong in the same package – but I found none of that contrast here. A seamless collection, the only criticism I can level at it is the often uncertain endings that might leave a few readers with a furrowed brow – as if Mark wanted to stretch them to novel length but cut them down guillotine fashion before they could mature. However, don’t let such subtle things sway you. With The Gaki and Other Hungry Spirits, Stephen Mark Rainey has given this reviewer more than enough reason to seek out his other work.

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