Written by Brandon Ford
Published by Black Bed Sheet Books
Writing a good short story requires great deal of skill. When you’ve only got five thousand or ten thousand words to work with in order to tell a complete, satisfying and engaging story, every word has to count. I believe this is especially true in the horror genre, where identification with the characters and the building of tension are so important to how the reader experiences the story.
This was, for me, the area where the majority of the stories in Brandon Ford’s collection of 18 short stories, Decayed Etchings, missed their mark. Ford’s writing style is clear, concise and vibrant whether he’s writing about a drunken, abusive husband getting his comeuppance in a decidedly strange what-goes-around-comes-around kind of way (“Goodbye, Elsie”), or a woman recalling a terribly traumatic experience from her childhood (“My Sacred Slumber”). He paints vivid pictures with his words, there is no doubt of that.
If Decayed Etchings could be said to have a theme, it would be the terrors of romantic relationships. At least half of the stories contained in its pages feature the myriad awful things people subject each other to in the name of love (or sometimes lust) or its aftermath. While this is a valid choice of subject matter – who can’t relate to the vagaries of romance? – Ford seems to view both genders with equal disdain at all times, which gives the reader very little to root for.
There is a fair bit of good in this collection – gruesome revenge, delightfully twisted circumstances, vicious irony and a boatload of horrifically troubled relationships. But often, what should be hitting the reader on a visceral level – the Chris Hanson-esque TV host who has his own dark secrets confined in the cellar (“Guilty Pleasures”), the straying husband desperate to retrieve his lost wedding ring (“Band of Gold”), the thoughtful police officer trying to help a child who reminds him of someone he cares about (“Cat Call”) – falls short when they aren’t given enough to connect with in the story to really care about the outcomes.
I often found myself, at the end of a story, feeling as if I’d been looking at photos from someone else’s vacation… someone I didn’t know well at all. Sure, the places were interesting and the colors were vibrant, but I had very little sense of who the people in the picture were and therefor wasn’t sure what the point of my experience was. Still, when the stories did connect, they were enjoyable and even fun. This leads me to believe that with just a bit more finesse, a stronger dollop of heart, Ford’s writing would pack a whole lot more impact.
Be warned, as well: There’s a decent amount of graphic violence, non-consensual sex and perversity. This isn’t the kind of volume you want to be leaving around in mixed company. Decayed Etchings is worth a read, maybe on a plane or while waiting at the doctor’s office. It’s good for a quick, vivid shot of purely surface horror. Just don’t expect anything deeper.
1. Famous Last Words
3. Goodbye, Elsie
4. The Suitor
5. Prognosis Negative
7. Band of Gold
8. Cat Call
9. Pillow Talk
11. A Walk in the Park
12. My Sacred Slumber
14. Camera Shy
15. Guilty Pleasures
16. Sound Off
18. I’m Up Here
2 1/2 out of 5
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