A.S. Mott,
Haunting Fireside Stories
(Ghost House, 2005)

In Haunting Fireside Stories, we have gathered a collection of five short stories penned by A.S. Mott, the second volume of a series he began in Fireside Ghost Stories. As he tells us in his forward, Mott has brought one of the tales here over from the earlier volume, but the rest represents his latest work.

The first of these tales is the cleverly titled "Happily Ever Hereafter," the tale of a recently widowed and disconsolate woman who is herself untimely snatched from existence. Some confusion and a bit of merriment ensues, as mid-echelon heavenly bureaucrats attempt to sort out the mess created when folks arrive at their otherworldly destination off-schedule, and our devoted heroine discovers that her much-loved (and demised) former husband has signed up for an eternity of haunting his First Love. It all gets sorted out in the end, but the resolution is seen from a great distance by the reader, so the effect is diminished. Along the way, the old high school beau contracts with a poltergeist extractor for a little aether extermination (and the possible relationship suggested at remains unresolved), and eventually our original lovebirds are reunited in a turn suggested long before seen.

In this story, there are problems that recur throughout this book, most of which could be solved with competent editing (the most egregious example, though far from the only one, is the high school sweetheart, whose identity changes from Cheryl to Carol, and back to Cheryl again, all in the space of two-thirds of the same page).

We are taken next on "The Hunt," a story that begins under a bit of a cloud; witness the following line from the opening paragraph: "A virtual monsoon of clammy perspiration seeped out of them (palms) at a rate he had never before considered." Leaving aside the problem of monsoony palms, one is left wondering what sort of protagonist considers the pattern of sweat. That off to one side, the tale unfolds engagingly enough, but eventually becomes "The Most Dangerous Game" with a twist: werewolves. (I note here for the record that I am doing what I can to avoid spoilers, for those who may wish to give these tales a read.)

Our next saga is "The Living Dead," a piece with interesting coincidental resonance struck by the recent Terri Schiavo case in Florida. It is a story with real heart, and it intelligently grapples with some tough issues faced by those who must stand along the threshold between this life and what may lie beyond; for that, I can recommend it with enthusiasm.

This is followed by "Samantha's Diary," the best work in the bunch. The author tells us it is his favorite, and it is easy to see why. We have a protagonist who's easy to cheer for and sympathize with, and the introduced turn towards 9/11 is handled with exceptional sensitivity. There are still problems with the construct: Samantha has great difficulty manifesting physically, yet makes regular entries into a diary? Still, a worthy attempt here by young Mott.

The book closes with "Reality Television," and it's not a great way to finish up. There is too much writing for too little story. What we have is rampaging monsters trumping arrogant humans, the standard "pride goeth before a fall" tale, and not framed with much that engages.

The winners, then, are "Samantha's Diary" and "The Living Dead." If Mott uses those for guidance towards future work, he might well carve out a nice niche for himself.

by Gilbert Head
28 October 2006

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