Sunday, July 10, 2011

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 I knew would appeal to my predilection even before plunging into the first tale. A glossy novella, The Gaki and Other Hungry Spirits is short, sweet, and interspersed with stories lean on dialogue yet 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 seeking out a cabal of kindred spirits who gather by the banks of the Cooper River to keep their pious desires alive. Here David encounters a wandering spirit … and the consequences of being marked by one. It’s a fitting opener, displaying smart writing with (Lovecraftian) overtones for a modern audience.

Stories that stood out:

Festival of the Jackal (Off Broadway). Contains
 the sort of prose that bites with subtle comedy, our protagonist makes astute observations about the mire of modern living before a chance encounter with 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 others before it, Festival of the Jackal is like a cross-pollination of Bret Easton Ellis meeting 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 mark of a mature dark fiction scribe with credible style.

There are many collections today with a hit and miss ratio; disparate tales shoved together haphazardly ... but I found none of that contrast here. A mostly seamless collection, the only real criticism I can level is the occasional guillotine/style endings that (may) leave a few question marks. However, don’t let such subtle things sway you. With The Gaki and Other Hungry Spirits, Stephen Mark Rainey gives you more than enough reason to seek out his other work.