Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Michael Arnzen
Published by Dark Regions Press
There are things in this world often unseen, things that appear normal at first, but then careen wildly into the world of the weird when left to their own devices. Sometimes all it takes is a creatively twisted mind to let all those little bad dreams come out as the giant nightmare they wish to be. Imagine, if you will, an amusement park not for people, but for demons looking for a thrill ride. Or a child for whom Halloween will never be truly over, or even the answer to that age old question, if no one notices you or thinks about you, do you even truly exist? Michael Arnzen is just such a creative mind, and his world seems to have been cut from the same cloth as The Twilight Zone or even The Outer Limits.
Proverbs for Monsters is a collection of Arnzen’s work, some of it from as early as 1991. Half dedicated to short stories, half to poetry, Arnzen takes his readers on a guided tour of insanity and the macabre, with a few moments of touching grace combined with repulsive terror. This collection gives the reader a chance to watch Arnzen’s growth as a writer over nearly two decades. And, if anything, those seventeen years have made him better than ever.
The first half of this book, dedicated to short stories, begins with a strange tale in which a man’s neighbor turns himself into a chicken. And if you think that’s weird, strap in for a ride like none other. Following are stories about a doctor who learns to heal himself, a dentist who becomes far too close to one of his experiments, and a school for assassins where failing leads to deadly consequences. There are also three stories co-written with scribes Mark McLaughlin and Vincent Sakowski. In this section, there are several “how-to” style stories, including a handy guide for raising and growing a man-eating plant, how to put a cat to sleep, and “Stabbing for Dummies,” which also appeared on Arnzen’s Audiovile. In this section, the standouts include “The Boblin,” in which a boy’s Halloween turns into his entire life; “Immaterial Girl;” and “The Dead Lantern,” which was based on an unfinished story fragment by Edgar Allan Poe. There are also moments of humor, as in “Imaginary Trivia,” as well as moments of pure grace, as in the appropriately titled “Tugging the Heartstrings.”
Section two of Proverbs for Monsters is dedicated entirely to Arnzen’s own fierce brand of poetry. While the subjects range from the truly horrific such as “The Scab” and “The Oral Surgeon Removes his Mask,” to the humorous, there are items in this collection for nearly every horror fan. “Fuzzy Bunnies” is a prime example of just how twisted Arnzen can be, as is “Wicked Wickets.” There are also poems of surreal humor such as “Proverbs for Monsters” and “Halloween Costumes I Wish I Would Have Seen.” It is easy to see Arnzen sitting behind his computer letting out wicked peels of laughter while concocting some of these poems.
Those who’ve read my reviews before know that I’ve come to expect a great deal from Arnzen, and Proverbs for Monsters does not disappoint. Though many of the stories deal with cancer from smoking and some of them telegraph their endings, the fact remains that this book serves to document the evolution of a great writer.
4 out of 5
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