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Close to the Bone

Mark Morris

Judy Piatkus Publishers, Ltd.

UK Hardcover Frst

ISBN 0-7499-0277-9

255 pages;$35.95

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001




05-09-02, 12-13-02

One would think that the phenomenal popularity of 'The Books of Blood' would have led to the publication of a plethora of horror short story collections. However, the reverse has been true -- master short-story writer Clive Barker has turned into an inconsistent novelist, and few other single-author collections of short stories have been published since 'The Books of Blood'. In 'Close to the Bone', British novelist Mark Morris demonstrates his talent for the short story format, a talent that shines brighter as the stories get longer.

'Close to the Bone' includes 11 stories, 9 published elsewhere, and two new to this collection. Fortunately, those published elsewhere come from obscure and difficult-to-find sources, making this collection more valuable to the reader. The stories themselves cover a wide range of topics and moods, demonstrating the author's versatility. In 'Green', a man's abhorence of the color green, for good reason, leads to a surreal bout of domestic violence. It's a nicely told tale, full of sharply-defined lines of tension and paranoia. 'The Fertilizer Man' plays more like Bradbury-influenced Twilight Zone fare, while 'Warts and All' is an economically-driven "Tales from the Crypt'-style gross-out.

But Morris doesn't restrict himself to mainstream horror. In 'Progeny', he takes a low-key look at a disturbed family with horrifying, though not visceral results. Still, occasionally, the shorter pieces seem rather slight, especially when compared with the novellas, like the original-to-this-collection 'Down to Earth'. It's a finely wrought tale of domestic disintegration, surreal, inexplicable and very horrific. The semi-autobiographical 'The Chisellers Reunion' is another cleverly written and plotted piece with a nice, actual surprise built-in.

Overall, 'Close to the Bone' demonstrates why Morris writes novels, since the longer pieces are uniformly better. But it also demonstrates the power and joy of single-author short story collections, and the horror genre in general. In both, a single, talented writer can cover a wide variety of moods, circumstances, characters and ideas within a coherent, if dark world view.