By SHAWN MACOMBER
Welcome to Tomb of the Spine-Tingling Tome, a new column exploring the darkest corners of literature. For this inaugural edition, the Tomb is focusing on some seriously spooky, perception-scrambling LGBT-authored and/or -friendly reading material.
“The constants in our lives are the same whatever our sexual orientation,” legendary horror fiction/film pioneer and now elder statesmen of the dark fantastic Clive Barker once told an audience. “We feel desire and desperation, we feel love and rejection, we feel possessed by those we love and feel a need to be, in our turn, possessed. Whoever we sleep with, whoever we feel love for, these feelings are universal… We are all human. Well, most of us.”
And in that spirit, consider allowing yourself to be possessed in your own special way by the following three limitless, beguiling, wondrous works…
- F4 by Larissa Glasser (Eraserhead Press)
If dark culture is ever in the market for a superhero, the visionary multimedia convention-obliterating bad-ass Glasser fits the bill—and then some. I mean, c’mon: She’s an unassuming librarian, vocalist/guitarist of “witching metal” powerhouse Hekseri, mastermind behind earthy, eclectic Spoorloos, revolution-fomenting editor—she recently co-edited RESILIENCE, a collection of stories by trans writers that was a 2017 Lambda Literary Award nominee for Transgender Fiction—and an author of top-shelf, disquieting, surrealist horror fiction that marries elegance and ghastliness in a fresh, idiosyncratic way. Though we’ve seen glimpses of her deft hand with dark narrative in anthologies such as WICKED HAUNTED (New England Horror Writers) and TRAGEDY QUEENS: STORIES INSPIRED BY LANA DEL REY AND SYLVIA PLATH (Clash), the fully actualized brilliance of this self-described “genre writer and queer trans woman from Boston” truly announces itself in her visionary, gorgeously rendered, profane, sanity-refracting debut novella F4.
The synopsis: “A cruise ship on the back of a sleeping kaiju. A transgender bartender trying to come terms with who she is. A rift in dimensions known as The Sway. A cruel captain. A storm of turmoil, insanity and magic is coming together and taking the ship deep into the unknown. What will Carol the bartender learn in this maddening non-place that changes bodies and minds alike into bizarre terrors? What is the sleeping monster who holds up the ship trying to tell her? What do Carol’s fractured sense of self and a community of internet trolls have to do with the sudden pull of The Sway?”
If that sounds like absolutely nothing you’ve ever read before…trust us, it isn’t.
- LOVEBITES & RAZORLINES by J. Daniel Stone (Villipede Publications)
Stone’s 2016 novel BLOOD KISS was an intoxicating amalgamation of Barker and Oscar Wilde, high concept and street punk, gut punches and dread-inducing sprawl. His entry in that same year’s collaborative collection I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD—a highly imaginative, super-stylized “movie theater for the damned” yarn—only served to further cement the young, bold, gay New York City writer’s reputation as a rising voice and a pure creative force with which to be reckoned.
This upward trajectory, continuous honing and stakes-raising continues in Stone’s vibrant and harrowing first short-story collection, LOVEBITES & RAZORLINES, which features 13 fascinating, powerful distillations of his dark prowess, covering an insanely diverse thematic and atmospheric range.
The synopsis: “From the darkest parts of New York City to subterranean dreamscapes and clubs hidden away from the public, J. Daniel Stone’s hypnotic prose guides you through the aberrant jungle of life’s seedy half. Inside we meet artists starving for attention, hungry shadows; we fall prey to disease, become entranced by psychedelic encounters and learn from introspection far beyond anyone’s years. Lyrical philosophies plague the mind of a young pregnant woman not willing to have the baby. A young man longs to discover death in hopes to locate the mother that never loved him. Music is the key to putting a soul back in dead things. A couple must come to terms with recent HIV infection. A pair of artists feed off one another’s talents in order to understand the supernatural. A transsexual longs for the ultimate transformation.”
The takeaway? Don’t sleep on the Stone.
- SECRETS OF THE WEIRD by Chad Stroup (Grey Matter Press)
Calling Stroup a writer almost feels limiting. He’s more like a world-building consciousness-transporter. His magnificent debut novel SECRETS OF THE WEIRD has the feel of Lewis Carroll smashing into William Burroughs smashing into J.G. Ballard smashing into Chuck Palahniuk and then the whole crew stumbling into an art installation based on the work of David Lynch.
Oh, yeah, and then there’s its punk hardcore heart. (See Stroup’s Instagram page for more on that…) It’s a dark, strange adventure tailor-made for those who thrill to the outré and adore narratives with true velocity, bite, imagination and one jaw-dropping surprise after another. And its social commentary, alternately sly and visceral, is straight up LGBT-friendly AF.
The synopsis: “It’s here, within the dark tapestry of Sweetville, where a new designer drug offers the enticing yet dangerous promise of salvation through physical transformation as it makes the rounds of the community of club kids, neo-Nazis, drag queens, prostitutes and punks who populate the city’s sin-drenched streets. Its chewable hearts and candied lips threaten to change the lives of those in the city’s underground in terrible ways. And on her seemingly herculean struggle to once and for all become the woman she was born to be, Trixie is the ideal candidate to accept its treacherous bargain. With Sweet Candy poised to ignite the tenuous powder keg that is life, love and lust in Sweetville, could the arrival of the mysterious back-alley surgeon Julius Kast and his cult of peculiar specters be the final spark that lights the fuse?”