Robert Devereaux is one of the modern masters of the horror novel. Here, he turns his twisted eye to shorter fiction (well, for half the book), and we have to ask ourselves the question we have to ask with all novelists working in another genre: is he as good in medium B as he is in medium A? That's a choice each reader has to make on his own, of course, but as far as I'm concerned, he may actually be better in medium B. "Ridi Bobo" is such a stroke of pure genius that, ten years from now, it may have entered the same space in my head reserved for such once-in-a-lifetime magnum opi as Richard Christian Matheson's "Red" or Dan Simmons' "Summer of Monsters." Yeah, it's THAT good. Who in the name of all that's holy would think to cross a hardboiled detective story with a bunch of clowns? Bob Devereaux, that's who. (And for those who always say the same things in response to such a comment, the point isn't that you could have done it; the point is that you never thought to do it. Now go away.)
The rest of the short stories here are just as amusing, gut-churning, and otherwise out-there, as any Devereaux fan would come to expect. However, when you've finished this book, what will have stuck with you most is the title novella. Perhaps because it's actually novel-length, clocking in at almost two hundred pages itself, or perhaps because, while there has certainly been a rash of modern retellings of Shakespeare over the past few decades (two others, in fact, that come to mind just on The Tempest), once again, Devereaux managed to tread the same old ground and cause the new feet to make it look fresh.
"Caliban" is one thing no other Devereaux work to date has been; it is difficult. Whether this was a conscious attempt to write in a more Shakespearean style (don't worry, you'll find no sonnets here) or the beginnings of Devereaux going to a more literary style for his work remains to be seen, but "Caliban" isn't the kind of thing that can be read in one gulp. He story demands, at the very least, being put down now and again between chapters so the reader can reflect on and absorb the events that have just crossed his eyes. This is likely to jar against the heads of some readers, since one of the hallmarks of Devereaux's writing until now has been its better-than-average accessibility. However, those who are capable of making the
transition will be amply rewarded come the end.
There is a writer of great brilliance lurking among us, and as most writers of great brilliance, he has somehow failed to find the audience he deserves. Robert Devereaux remains one of the ten or so best writers working in America today; if you haven't yet discovered him, by all means do so at your earliest opportunity. ****
The short stories are well done. The author doesn't waste pages and each story comes to a satisfying conclusion. All the short stories except the first revolve around sexual fantasy. It's not [x-rated], per se, but it wouldn't take much effort to move it into that category, if you catch my drift.
The included novel, Caliban, is an engaging story centered around the struggle for personal power and revenge. A bit on the bleak side, but hey, this ain't no Dean Koontz novel, thankfully.
The short stories are a mixture of the bizarre, the horrific and the downright depraved. Taking the biscuit is "The Slobbering Tongue That Ate The Frightfully Huge Woman", a story which has more to it than its title would suggest. It starts off as an emotional drama before turning into a horror b-movie before your eyes. Parts of the climax are completely off the wall and extremely funny without losing any of the tale's strange quality.
"A Slow Red Whisper Of Sand" is possibly the most extreme vampire story that I've ever read and it's a brave move to release it on the mass market. A long story, it has a dual plot about a man and a woman who meet up through a personal ad and the other thread is about a vampire and his 'wives'.
My favourite of the short tales is "Clap If You Believe" a story that will delight fans of Devereaux's intoxicating novel SANTA STEPS OUT. This tells the tale of a man's love for Tinkerbell and his visit to her earthly parents house. Absolutely magical and another stunning adult fairy tale from the author.
Onto the novel. CALIBAN is a treat. Its so different to the norm that is deserves commendation for that alone but the fact that Devereaux is at the helm means that you are in for an extra special treat anyway.
Set on a small island somewhere off the African coast, Caliban is a boy with no name whose mother is an old and poweful sorceress. However she's dying and two mysterious strangers Prospero and Miranda arrive on the island.
Told through Caliban's eyes, the story is enchanting yet dark and mysterious. From his incestuous relationship with his haggard old mother, through to the entrapment of the mysterious sprite Ariel and the coming of the bad people (Prospero and Miranda) the novel is a blend of magic, innocence and horror.
Caliban is tormented by the powerful Prospero as he grows up and repeated spells and curses leave him deformed. However Caliban is spurred on through his tortured life by the thought of revenge.
CALIBAN is a moving and engrossing story and he definitely comes through as the strongest character. Everything is seen through Caliban's eyes and we follow his trials and tribulations through life as he matures and becomes a sorcerer of sorts himself.
CALIBAN is an entertaining novel that is both a breath of fresh air and a triumph of inventiveness.