Friday, July 2, 2010

The Bride Stripped Bare

Anyone who thinks the Twilight series is horror (other than in an ironic sense), stop reading this now.

If The Bride Stripped Bare were a song, it would be the smoldering wreck of a three-way collision of  Ministry's “Stigmata”, Lamb's “All in Your Hands”, with the Buzzcocks' “Orgasm Addict”.

Of course, I mean that in the best possible way.

If you're like me, you read too much horror and even more experimental fiction, and you've seen the slasher rejects, the tripe from populist Stephen King wannabes, and the completely inaccessible blathering from lit majors who blame the readers when nobody gets their pointless stream-of-consciousness rants. I know you're tired, you're considering Barnes and Noble's horror section, maybe even reading something by Stephenie Meyer just to see what all the hype is about, but please don't give up hope, yet.

I'm here to tell you, there's something else.

The Bride Stripped Bare is the kind of writing you were seeking when you waded through the waist-deep crap in the small-press and 'zine world. Rachel Kendall has stitched together a brutal corpus of horror in this collection that relentlessly chases you from one nightmare to the next until your brain is about to melt, then offers you a cigarette and tells you a joke, then pins you to the dirt (with real pins), removes your entrails and tells your future with them.

I imagine you'll come away from The Bride Stripped Bare alive, but I won't say you'll be unscathed.

The stories in The Bride Stripped Bare are brief, and their real power lies in the questions Kendall leaves unanswered--how did these two people end up in this fly-riddled bedroom? who left that dirty engine out there? what does her boss do with all that blood?

The single nitpick I have with The Bride Stripped Bare, is that there is no backbone to which I can connect all the stories. Imagine that you stumble upon a dismembered corpse: if you poke at the bits, you can still tell they all once made a whole person, but reading The Bride Stripped Bare is like opening Jeffrey Dahmer's freezer and finding frosty pieces of several different people. Sure, there are concepts echoed from story to the next--decay, pregnancy, depravity, family, brutality, infidelity--but none of them jell into a solid theme.

But who needs a theme? Despite it's identity crisis, The Bride Stripped Bare is still a high functioning piece of schizophrenic literature. The opening lines of “51 Weeks” might be a perfectly self-reflexive description of the collection: "we are members of something unique; a small collective, a thumb-sucking comfort. We are emotional refugees who fled the sanctimonious core of society, who seek to reconcile with the truest, most unconventional order."

There remains one unforgivable problem inherent in the very nature of The Bride Stripped Bare. The short stories left me hungry for something more meaty--“The Pleasure Principle” teases me with a future conspiracy, and “You're” ends almost as soon as it gets started--which means Kendall only has one chance at redemption.

She needs to write a novel.

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