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Monsters: A Collection of Literary Sightings

By B.J. Hollars, ed.
Pressgang, 2012
$14, Paper


Reviewed by Gregory L. Reece

Monsters come in all shapes in sizes. Some are frightening, eliciting blood curdling screams and pounding hearts from even the most stalwart among us. Some are sad, tearfully, fearfully sad. They make us weep for their deformities, their brokenness, their inability to walk among us without causing a scene, their never-ending quest to find true love in a world to which they do not belong. B.J. Hollars’ collection of short stories offers both these sorts of monsters, the frightening and the sad, as well as some fine examples of some of their monstrous cousins, like the funny and the mystifying.

We get a glimpse into the all too human relationship between Godzilla and King Kong in Brian Baldi’s comically tragic “She Saves Tokyo” and wonder at the power of the fairy tale to horrify adults as well as children in Matt Bell’s “Wolf Parts” and Kate Bernheimer’s “Babes in the Woods.” Jedidiah Berry’s “Inheritance” is a delightfully funny, sad, and terrifying story that ponders the love we feel toward those we have lost to death, and the responsibility we feel toward the messes they invariably leave behind. Austin Berry’s “Bonsai Kitten” is a meditation on the origin of monsters, of how monsters beget monsters, and of how the broken go on to break things in turn. Some of the monsters here are real, terrifying creatures from the pits of hell that stalk the night and seek only to destroy. Some of the monsters here are imaginary, growing in the back of our brains like a tumor until they metastasize all through our lives, our own irrational fears spreading destruction in their wake. Some of these monsters are inhuman, alien beings without a point of reference in our reality, like Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, the ancient being from beyond space and time. Others are more familiar, the geek in the sideshow tent revealed to be remarkably normal after the show folds up and moves on or the mewing, screaming, foul creature that comes into our homes as a newborn son or daughter, little brother or sister. Some of them are simply ourselves, reflected back, not in the distorted image of a carnival mirror, but in remarkable and rare clarity and precision.

B.J. Hollars has summoned all sorts of monstrous things in this remarkable collection. Read it, but don’t dare place a copy on your bedside table. June 2012

Gregory L. Reece is the author of five books of Fortean nonfiction. His latest is Creatures of the Night.

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