Long Time No Read
The many aficionados of Dennis Etchison’s fiction who have been waiting so long for new material must be warned right away: Fine Cuts, from PS Publishing, is a reprint collection assembling a bunch of his most famous stories (which have already appeared in previous reprint collections published in USA). Alas, it features no new stuff, not even a single unpublished tale thrown in as a bonus by this fine but far from prolific writer. The stories in Fine Cuts mostly revolve around the area of the entertainment industry, that world of motion pictures and television that the author states to be "in his blood" (and which, incidentally, is mainly responsible for the fact that Etchison has so little available time to devote to the printed work).
As I said, all the tales are so familiar to any dark fiction reader whose hair is turning grey or white (bar the ladies, of course) that it’s rather difficult to attempt any meaningful reviewing process. This is fiction that made the history of American horror and all we need to do is to take our hats off. So, just a brief reminder of what the stories are about.
In "Calling All Monsters" a man tied to a surgical table is declared clinically dead by a transplant surgeon, but he’s not… In "Got to Kill Them All" a burned-out TV personality meets a strange kid willing to fulfill his most extreme desires. "The Dog Park" is an effective metaphor of the hard life of any Hollywood wannabe, and "The Last Reel" a merciless depiction of the hardcore video environment with its callous producers and expectant starlets.
Love affairs, vanity, and inability to face the real world are the components of the tragic murder reconstructed in "I Can Hear the Dark" by means of broken phrases, hints, bits of conversations. In "The Spot" — a melancholy look at life’s and fame’s frailty — a casual meeting with an old, retired actress makes two young cleaners doubtful about their possible future in the movies. In "Deathtakes", "canned" laughing from old TV shows comforts a couple of bereaved parents.
"Inside the Cackle Factory" is the uneasy portrait of the shallow, cruel world of the TV shows and "The Late Shift" probes the real nature of clerks working the graveyard shift. The cryptic "The Blood Kiss" creates a disquieting scenario by entwining real life and a movie script.
My two favorite stories are "When They Gave Us Memory", a memorable piece imbued with a sense of unreality, bringing back the nostalgia for a past so long gone that nothing is as we remember it, and "Dead Space", an extraordinary example of "quiet horror" describing the hopeless attempts of a script writer to make his dreams come true. He ends up being involved with a young girl afflicted by a rare, progressive disease.
To those among us who enjoyed Etchison’s work in the past this book represents the return of an old friend whom we haven’t seen for quite a while, one of those friends whose yarns we keep listening to with endless pleasure. For the younger readers who have heard about Etchison but never had the chance to read his work, here’s an invaluable opportunity to get acquainted at last with this excellent writer.