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Book Reviews

Horror Story and Other Horror Stories

by Robert Boyczuk

Despite its playfully generic title, only a handful of the 19 stories in this debut collection are traditional tales of horror involving monsters, vampires, or murderous evil spirits. Instead, it is an anthology of genre-bending weirdness ranging from straight horror to literary metafiction to sci-fi. If there is a box to put Boyczuk into, it is one he shares with a new generation of talented Canadian surrealists, including Paul Glennon, Chris Eaton, and Tim Conley.

The stories do, for the most part, share a common theme, dealing with relationships that have turned toxic with secrecy, jealousy, and obsession, and typically ending in a kind of death-in-life. A nasty pink creature stalks the streets of “Gaytown.” A young man heads to “The Love Clinic” to get rid of his own unwanted desires. An obsessed scientist tries to find a “Cure for Cancer,” using the woman who jilted him as guinea pig.

Boyczuk has a real knack for creepy, Twilight Zone-style atmospherics. The scary stuff is often made more threatening by being kept just out of sight, concealed in shadows or half hidden behind a window. Although stylistically the writing is undeniably effective – as with the best genre fiction, your eyes start to race in all the right places – the collection occasionally succumbs to genre’s gravitational pull toward the formulaic.

At least some of the time, this is made to seem justified. The first story, for example, takes the form of a series of letters written by a pompous literary editor whose dedication to his job leads him on a bizarre spelunking adventure. And the final story has a drunken police detective facing the possibility that his amateur writing efforts have come to life. The writing style in both cases follows genre conventions, but is also an expression of character and an inseparable part of the fabric of the narrative.

Boyczuk’s stories all have a twist – a turn of the screw – that breathes new life into some of the old forms and results in fiction as clever as it is entertaining.