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The Hellmouths of Bewdley

by Tony Burgess

An insane doped-up doctor, a 30-year-old gay virgin, a redneck transvestite, and 20 guys named Jesus Christ reside in Toronto writer Tony Burgess’s first collection of short stories.

Set in Bewdley, Ontario, The Hellmouths of Bewdley portrays the pastoral gone wrong. Burgess brings a twisted urban brutality to this rural village, fracturing the myth of the naively innocent small town. His prose has the terse exactness of a hardboiled detective novel. A present tense immediacy gives the work a cinematographic quality. Characters are portrayed through the hard surface of their actions and the reader is rarely privy to their thoughts.

Hellmouths reflects the isolation of many communities thinly dotted across rural Canada. The winters are long, lonely, and quiet, qualities Burgess has captured remarkably well. Although it may be historically true that nature posed a threat to survival, in Burgess country – as in urban storytelling – the threat clearly comes from other people.

The most pointed example of this is the story “Home.” In a farmer’s field of purple and white flowers a man rests, perusing his date-book. Tied to a nearby tree are the two men he has savaged, one dead, the other dying. The natural world is benign; although wilderness creates the isolated setting in which violence can occur, it is the human who acts as predator.

These stories are universally dark and not for the timid or prudish. A subtle horror invades the fine writing; intimate biological details of violent death are revealed in a manner that suggests Stephen King having a confidential chat with Hieronymus Bosch in the north woods. What Burgess reveals is that the dark edges of humanity we stereotypically equate with the urban are present and even more threatening in areas with no 911 service.