Review: “The Monstrous”, ed. Ellen Datlow

Pros: Excellent tales of monsters of all kinds
Cons: Some still confuse me
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review ebook provided free by publisher for this review.

I rarely rate anthologies above a three–maybe a four at most. The thing is, it’s in the nature of anthologies to have some stories you’ll enjoy and some you won’t (the specific good and bad stories depend upon the individual reader of course). So it’s next to impossible to have a truly great anthology. Editor Ellen Datlow’s The Monstrous is one of the very few exceptions to this rule. There were a few high-concept pieces that confused me a bit (another reader-dependent issue), but by and large I loved these stories and the range of definitions of what comprises a ‘monster’. There are some good stories in which man proves to be the greatest monster of all–but there are plenty of other, more literal monsters to keep them company. There’s a long list of stories in this, so I’ll include a few words on some of the ones that made an impression on me rather than trying to sum up all of them.

Gemma Files’s A Wish from a Bone appealed to me; I’m fond of archaeology-related horror tales and stories of the Old Gods–dark and unfathomable creatures with alien agendas. In this tale, a group stumbles across an ancient temple with evil forces locked within, and watching how characters reacted fascinated me.

The Last, Clean, Bright Summer, by Livia Llewellyn, horrified me–something that doesn’t happen often any more. The material gets quite dark as a young woman’s family travels to a family reunion. This tale is grotesque with some fairly dark sexual material, so it won’t be for everyone. The gradually-revealed setup is imaginative and horrific.

Adam-Troy Castro’s The Totals gives us a monster and killer called Clutch and then dares us to empathize with him. I love the twisty nature of this one, and the very unusual cluster of characters.

Terry Dowling’s Jenny Come to Play involves an unusual relationship between sisters, and the grotesque manner in which it devolves.

There are many other excellent stories in here by such authors as Peter Straub, Brian Hodge, Dale Bailey, and Kim Newman. Each story is horrific, touching, dark–it’s easy to get drawn in. There were no stories in here that put me off, although I’ll admit to not quite figuring out what some of them were getting at (high-concept, semi-abstract stories are always a shot in the dark, since you never know whether the majority of your readers will get it or not–but when they work, they can be utterly fantastic).

Whether you’re looking for old-fashioned or new-fashioned horror stories, I think you’ll enjoy The Monstrous. Some monsters are more literal than others; some monsters are very, very human. And sometimes, the monster isn’t quite who you think it is.

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