Fine Cuts (Book)
Published by PS Publishing
Dennis Etchison is one of those names that, if you read much in the horror genre, you've probably encountered at one time or another. He's written the novelizations of several well known franchise movies and numerous short story collections as well. The stories in this, his latest offering, all share a common thread … their locality. Etchison's choice of home in LA, among the beating heart of the entertainment industry, infuses his writing with a familiar backdrop of sunny climes, gossip, and ghosts … of both the literal and figurative kind.
Fine Cuts starts off with a little snip called "Calling All Monsters" (like quite a few of the shorts in the book, the title doesn't really tell you anything about the story it covers) about organ harvesting. "Calling All Monsters" highlights some of Etchison's amazing talents. I've read reviews of his work that state his writing style is "slick" or "polished." I disagree, but not in a bad way. Words like slick and polished suggest that the writing is easily glossed over, and like the stories or not, I don't believe that's the case. Etchison's writing snags you with a well turned phrase and can chew you up like the cogs of a machine or slice you clean before you know you're bleeding.
There's a bit of this and a bit of that in Fine Cuts, a little something for just about everyone. Including "Calling All Monsters" there are 12 stories in the book, and none of them really resembles another beyond their shared location and similarity of style. "Got to Kill Them All," the second installment, is a rather misogynistic piece starring the host of a fictional game show with a neat little knife twist ending. It's followed by "The Dog Park," which is one of my least favorite stories, a sort of random, rambling, and seemingly existential piece about an author with a lost dog who's leaving LA after the option on his novel runs out. It seems like there's more there, but the end left me feeling flat and kind of … dusty. That's the only way I can explain it.
Next are "The Last Reel" and "When They Gave Us Memory," both of which I enjoyed a lot, the latter a bit more so. Two totally different situations (one a has-been actor at an adult industry party and the other an actor on the top who goes home for a visit to discover his world is not as it seems) flavored with the same sense of desperation and a frantic need to appear glamorous. "I Can Hear the Dark" is the creepiest of the bunch. Told from the perspective of the child of a soap star in a house full of soap stars, it's atmospheric and meaty.
"Deadspace," "The Spot," and "Inside the Cackle Factory" are all entries that, at the end of the day, I either didn't know or didn't care what was going on within them; and despite two rereads I'm still not sure which is the case. "Deathtracks," a story about parents who lost a son in Vietnam and have since become obsessed with the recycled laugh tracks on sitcoms in a bizarre method of communing with the dead, is a really interesting and rather unsettling premise but felt a little difficult to connect to for all that. The final two entries, "The Late Shift" (a nice zombie entry) and "The Blood Kiss" (a twisted little tale of betrayal that would make a nice episode of Masters of Horror I think) are my two favorites and the two most easily accessible to mainstream genre fans.
Pound for pound, or page for page if you will, Etchison is without a doubt a gifted storyteller; but I have a feeling that others reading this same exact book would have different opinions and favorites and least favorites than I. And maybe that's a bit of his genius as well. A different mindset will lead you to experience the story in a different way. Even the stories I didn't like, I can imagine other people might. They weren't bad; they just weren't my cup of tea. But there's no question that I like Etchison's style and want to see more of his work. For anyone interested in some smart horror with a little Hollywood glamour, you'll be sure to find something to your liking in Fine Cuts.
3 out of 5
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