12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Vince A. Liaguno
- Published on Amazon.com
John Michael Curlovich's novella "A Holy Time for All the Dead" leads off the intriguing new queer horror anthology, "Triptych of Terror". The reverend Steven Merchant is the newly appointed rector at the Old Stone Loaves and Fishes Full Gospel Fellowship Church in a run-down industrial town in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. Merchant is fresh out of Baptist seminary, assigned in part to the unglamorous locale because of a pesky homosexual indiscretion at the school. He is charged by the villainous Pastor Jack Cantworthy (an over-the-top antagonist who is equal parts gluttonous and nefarious) with creating a religious uproar over the secularization of Halloween in order to jumpstart the elder pastor's master plan to restore the holiday to its religious roots in honoring the dead. He arrives in run-down Glowney Junction to encounter an oddly-out-of-place cast of oddball characters - from the pedophile Catholic priest across the street, to the blind town business mogul and seminary benefactor affectionately known as the Zipper King, to a pair of decidedly queer-leaning, spiky-haired, eyebrow-pierced teenage boys who talk and act more like street hustlers in West Hollywood than small-town teens in an economically depressed industrial town.
Curlovich crafts a trippy little story about the freedom of sexual expression versus the repression of religious fundamentalism. He incorporates many classic elements of a haunting into the storyline, creating an effective metaphor for the repression of the closet. There are moments of genuinely scary imagery like the little dancing, flesh-ripping gargoyles whose use is quite effective. The author (who has also written some excellent haunted dwelling novels under the name Michael Paine) creates a fascinating protagonist in the Reverend Merchant, believably presenting him as a fully flawed mortal at a crossroads between his sexual orientation and the religion he loves. In the end, "A Holy Time for All the Dead" would have benefited from a novel-length treatment with several of the clichés trimmed down. Curlovich tries admirably to pack too much into too few pages, injecting some incongruous elements that detract somewhat from the storytelling. A Holy Time for the Dead is a haunting, dreamlike overstuffed piece of horror with some decidedly eerie imagery and a memorable spin on a classic story.
In Michael Rowe's superb novella "In October", readers are introduced to Mikey Childress, an outcast teenager living in a small-town Canadian suburb. Mikey's dreams of being loved are juxtaposed against his daily battles with an indifferent father who's dismissive and ashamed of his son's lack of machismo, a faith-obsessed mother who spends more time at church praying than she does loving her only child, and a particularly hateful group of high school bullies who subject him to a torrent of everyday horrors meant to humiliate and break his spirit. Mikey's one friend is Goth gal pal Wroxy, a self-professed white witch who offers an almost maternal love and serves as confidant to his coming out. After a particularly horrific bashing at the hands of notorious bully ring leader Dewey Verbinski and his jock cronies, Mikey turns to the occult and unknowingly calls out to the darkside for protection and revenge against his enemies. That protection arrives in the form of hunky Adrian, an enigmatic bad boy transfer student who materializes one day and takes an instant liking to the young protagonist. In Adrian, Mikey finds stalwart defense and an emotional security he has never known and a sexual awakening he has only dreamed about. But as all keen readers of the supernatural know, one cannot summon the darkside without casting a dark shadow. Soon Mikey's enemies start disappearing, meeting their demise at the hands (and claws, and teeth, and wings, and killer appendages, too!) of a demon who springs forth with equal fury to the homophobia leveled at the teen. As Mikey slowly comes to realize that Adrian may be the embodiment of his own hatred and resentment against those who've persecuted him, the teenager must make a heartbreaking choice between (literally) good and evil.
Rowe creates a masterful work with "In October", embracing the novella format like no writer in recent memory - so well as to fashion a thoroughly satisfying story. His depiction of Mikey's teen angst is dead-on, uncannily capturing the emotional loneliness and physical torments that mark the high school experience certain to resonant with every reader - gay and straight alike - on some level. From the beautifully tender and believable scene in which Mikey admits his homosexuality to a receptive Wroxy to the harrowing roadside gay bashing that leads him to seek out otherworldly intervention, Rowe brings the reader into the experience with a remarkable ability that few writers today possess. It is no small feat that Rowe can make us care so deeply for the characters and a testament to his ability as a writer that he does so within the concise format of an 80+ page novella. "In October" is a deeply-felt metaphorical homage to the horrors of coming out and an unsettling depiction of the straight world in which we do it. Rowe's tale of teenage anguish and loneliness is an exquisitely told cautionary tale, rich in visceral images of horror and the erotic.
"Triptych's" final installment is the devilishly magical "The Secrets of the Fey" by David Thomas Lord, another cautionary tale that reinforces the idea of being careful for what you wish for. Protagonist Tom Hogan is a sixty-three-year-old gay man grieving the loss of his longtime partner, Daniel. Paralyzed by grief, Tom is tired, lonely, and lamenting both the physical and emotional aches and pains of growing older in a gay culture in which youth and beauty are (at least theoretically) synonymous with happiness. His life is on autopilot, filled with meaningless everyday tasks and a select group of friends with whom he does brunch once a week. The narrative begins on Pride Day, with New York City bursting at the seams with the young and pretty. After a post-brunch altercation that sends him off alone to traverse the rainbow-laden cityscape, Tom happens upon a quaint gay bar called Land's End, where he meets the most beautiful man he has ever laid eyes on. Tapping into his Celtic heritage, Tom somehow quickly surmises that the porcelain-skinned redhead is a leprechaun-of-sorts and steals his clothes in some bid to force the granting of a wish. Despite stern warnings from the entrancing Will O'Gull, Tom wishes him to be his lover - one who will never leave him like Daniel did. But wishes always come at a cost, and what follows is an allegorical tale of the price we pay in pursuit of the fountain of youth.
Lord infuses "The Secrets of the Fey" with marvelous doses of mysticism, evoking images of malevolent fairies intermingled with erotic passion. He does a spot-on job chronicling Tom's post-wish transformation and the action moves along at a decent clip, never shortchanging the reader on character development (particularly in the case of Tom's plastic surgeon friend, Drew) or the hot sexual trysts that bookmark Tom's transformation. Lord's got quite a bit of symbolism and themes at work here - from the straightforward observations about the dangers inherent to pursuing youth and beauty at all costs to the less obvious commentary about sexual promiscuity and its ultimate loneliness in gay culture. Although this otherwise delightfully terrifying fable gets bogged down occasionally by Lord's distracting name dropping of New York City landmarks, the novella is quite an effective and chilling read overall. In the end, Lord reminds us that despite living in a culture that tells us otherwise, we can't really have it all, and that there are prices to be paid for discounting those blessings that are right under our noses.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Mark Louis Baumgart
- Published on Amazon.com
Gay horror, hetro horror, is there really any reason as to why it has to be segregated? No, not really, but evidently it is, and the mainstream horror genre and its aficionados are always looking for some new thing to read to entertain them, but anything that deals with the main characters being gay, especially in a non-sleazy or a non-exploitive manner is totally verboten. So, ghod bless the small specialty presses, without them we wouldn't get anthologies like this, and all three stories here are worth the time and trouble to track down and read by those that would normally overlook anything with a whiff of homosexuality. All three stories here have their elements and periods of eroticism, but nothing that should offend those that aren't gay, and nothing that could be read as exploitive.
--"A Holy Time For All The Dead" by John Michael Curlovich is the story that I bought this anthology for. I have been an increasing fan of Curlovich's since I bought and read his novel "Steel Ghosts" that he published under the name of Michael Paine. Enough of a fan that I have finally ordered from Amazon his first three out of print novels and this anthology. I wanted to see if the material that he has published under his own name was any different than the stuff that he has published under his pseudonym, and truthfully, not really.
Young and newly minted minister Steve Merchant has come this close to being booted out of the tv evangelist's Pastor Jack Cantworthy's Baptist seminary because of an incident with Daniel Forman, another student who WAS expelled. Unfortunately, this incident is a black mark on Merchant's record and has prevented, with Cantworthy and his predatory toad Marvin Heebler's help, from getting any jobs with the better Baptist churches. However, Cantworthy has come up with a way for Merchant to purge his record and get in Cantworthy's good graces. Merchant is to take over The Old Stone Loaves and Fishes Full Gospel Fellowship Church of
Glowney Junction in the back-back-backwater town of Glowney Junction now that the last pastor has died.
The idea is that will get back in Cantworthy's good graces if Merchant can get Glowney Junction to give up the sinful holiday of Halloween and rediscover Halloween's Christian roots. Merchant knows that the whole concept is ridiculous, but to continue to do God's work, he has no choice. The only trouble is that Merchant is still struggling with his sexuality, and he is getting phantom e-mails from Forman, who it seems will simply not leave the past alone.
Curlovich is not a goremaster, nor is he addicted to the idea of violence in his novels, and the same is the case here. Curlovich's style is to let the story take its own sweet time to be told, by letting the hauntings gradually increase in intensity and by letting Merchant struggle with his sexuality. Little by little Merchant comes to realize that he will not only fail to resurrect Halloween as a Christian holiday in the apathetic town, but that he can't, with Forman's help, deny his own sexuality. Curlovich pulls a sleight of hand here, for the first half you think that this is going to be a traditional ghost story, but it DOES turn into something different. The story does have some of Curlovich's faults as a writer though. Merchant is pretty much of a non-identity as a character, Curlovich's fondness for jarring apocalyptic endings is in full force here, on the other hand, Curlovich's fondness for acerbic observations sweetens the story considerably. With a better ending and a stronger lead, this could have been a five star story; it still gets four stars though.
--The next story is Michael Rowe's "In October" and like Curlovich's it starts off giving the impression as one thing, a "Carrie" clone, and ends up being something else entirely. "In October" is not just a novella, but is almost a full-length novel as we are introduced to Mikey Childress, small, gay, and bullied in the redneck town of Auburn, Ontario. His father is constantly away, his mother a holy roller, and he is constantly tormented at school by the thuggish, no-neck, over-muscled primitive Dewey Verbinski and his dopey sidekick Jim Fields. Then, one day goth girl Wroxy moves into town and they find that they have some shared interests, like the occult, and become friends for the next three years.
"In October" falls into the category of the "be-careful-of-what-you-wish-for" story as the first half of the story looks like it will be a gay version of "Carrie", but then goes in a different direction as Mikey is targeted by a cult that will give him what he wishes for. People start dying, and Mikey gets a dream protector and lover who isolates him from his one friend. The main problem that I have with the story is that Rowe overstates his case somewhat. Mikey is such a dweeb that while I will have to admit that even though I don't like the ending a whole lot, such an ending is most likely inevitable. The papers are sadly filled with such characters that are willing to make such decisions against their better judgments all in the name of love and security. So, Rowe has written a character driven horror story in which he examines not only the prosecution of gays and outsiders in a small isolated town, but also what happens when that outsider has a weak personality and is easily swayed by an outside agency to commit and/or support acts that he wouldn't normally commit and/or support. All that being said, I still don't like the ending. Four stars.
The third story in this anthology is "The Secrets Of The Fey" by David Thomas Lord and it is completely different than the other two stories. Tom Hogan is a retired man who is still mourning the death of his long time companion. It seems that his other friends and companions have been trying to draw him out of his shell and back into society, but it doesn't seem to be working. On Gay Pride Day he separates from his friends and goes on a pub crawl looking for what he's not sure. What he finds is something completely outside of his experiences, and it is one of the fey, and he is given one chance to wish for anything that he wants, and he wishes to be loved. Unfortunately for Hogan, this story is also a story that falls into the "be-careful-of-what-you-wish-for" genre, as the fey then says that he will love Hogan for as long as Hogan lives. Don't plan a long honeymoon. This is less a horror story than more of a dark fantasy as Hogan realizes that he has bitten off more than he can chew and his wish starts to go sidewise. I will admit to my ignorance as to the story's ending as it depends on a mythology that I am unfamiliar with and therefore cannot judge, although it reminds me of Tennessee William's story "The Black Narcissus". Four and half stars.
While Curlovich's story is about how a miserable man is saved by love, at a terrible price to be sure, but Steve Merchant IS saved from a life of pain, both Rowe and Lord give us stories in which a character is destroyed by love, although Lord's story's ending can be looked at as rather ambiguous. I was a little bothered that in both Curlovich's and Lord's universe EVERYBODY is gay, but, I guess you gotta figure in the target audience, and I got over it. The stories are almost British in their views of religion and alternate religions, but a quick look at the copywrite page shows that this was a Halloween anthology published in October. Well, okey dokey then. Good stuff.