Elizabeth E. & Thomas
F. Monteleone, editors,
From the Borderlands:
Stories of Terror & Madness

(Warner, 2004)

From the Borderlands: Stories of Terror & Madness seems dedicated to the proposition that we are the fantastic; that humans are the darkness they fear, as well as the heroes that must drive it back. While the editing team of Elizabeth and Thomas Monteleone speak with disdain of stories featuring nothing but "yet another serial killer," Borderlands features a high portion of stories in which the "monster at the end of the book" is revealed to be some mental defect of the main character, or a ghost comes back to do nothing but reveal the narrator as a killer.

Some of these stories are better than others, but piled together they soon become numbing. Worse, they become predictable. Some of the tales might have kept me guessing, if I hadn't already been softened up by a half collection of the same basic conceit. "The Goat-Whitt Pond" is a powerful tale of mass psychosis and the frightening alienation of a town on the brink of its own quiet extinction. But that psychological thrill dulls as three of the next five stories are likewise about mentally deranged humans inflicting damage on the innocents around them.

But there are plenty of good stories here, tales that follow twisting pathways to the truly unexpected. Michael Canfeld's "The Food Processor" would fit in a collection of Grimm's fairytales, if it weren't a little too dark even for the bards of Finchbeard and Big Bad Wolves. Barbara Malenky tosses in her own contribution to American folklore with "A Thing," a bit of superstition simple enough to have come straight from the mouth of your neighborhood's oldest wife. And there's evidence that a single basic idea can go in wildly different directions. Barry Hoffman's "Time for Me" and Bill Gautier's "The Growth of Alan Ashley" both lend a man's dissatisfactions a physical form, but with such jarring and diverse outcomes that the similarities are rendered invisible.

"All Hands" by John Platt takes full advantage of the short story's limitations; if the bizarre events were allowed by a full novel to occur, they would require some justification. Here, they stand alone, and the stoicism of those cursed by the relocating fingers seems justified simply because there is no room to discuss it further. Gary Braunbeck's "Rami Temporalis" manages to find a new take on the nature of God, with a chilling conclusion that doesn't strike home until after the story's put away, and then echoes in the brain's quiet moments for days. And of course, there's the brightly announced "Stationary Bike" by Stephen King, told in the familiar voice that makes the ending all the more shocking.

Borderlands isn't a perfect horror collection. It allows itself too many variations on a theme of madness and one too many child molesters for the sake of good taste or suspense. But wedged in among the ranting madmen are some hauntingly lucid tales and disturbing picture postcards brought back From the Borderlands.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 18 June 2005

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