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Touching the Monkey: The Best of www.tqrstories.com

Theodore Q. Rorschalk

Small Press Month 2009

" The kids are still screaming. They're right at the far end of the car park, but someone should make them stop."

Reviewed by Mithran Somasundrum

The titular monkey is presumably the one on the collection's cover. With magnificent indifference he looks out over a turquoise Asian bay: ships pass far below, a temple roof glints in sunlight. The monkey has seen it all -- kings and demons, the march of empires, the Buddha's footprints… Nonetheless, Theodore Q. Rorschalk, editor of  TQRstories.com (Total Quality Reading), and his ten co-conspirators, the "best" of the site's first 3 years, from have set themselves the task of impressing him. Taking a percentage approach, they come at the monkey from all sides. From horror to ghost stories to far future SF to literary fiction, Mr. Rorschalk has stopped at nothing. 

As with all such collections, and for that matter, all such attempts to impress jaded monkeys, some things work better than others. Surprisingly, the lead off story, Danny Rhodes' The Knowledge, was not one of the collection's strongest. Four young boys discover a hanged man; in his pocket, a letter addressed to someone the boys know. So much, so intriguing, but the story does not make good on its initial promise, and ultimately "knowledge" eludes the reader. However, things change gear with the collection's next, Atar Hadari's Dead Poets. Speaking from the afterlife, an unnamed woman, who is apparently Sylvia Plath, describes her relationship with Ted Hughes. Alternating with this is a second story in which an academic about to lose her job visits Hughes, desperate to elicit tenure-worthy information on Plath. It appears to be a hugely ambitious story -- Hadari impersonating the voices of two great writers. Towards the end we understand they are not Plath and Hughes exactly, but Plath and Hughes "types". At which point the story becomes less ambitious, but, unshackled from real events, also very much stranger. 

A different kind of afterlife is described by Joseph Paul Haines in the far future Reflections Of A Similar Mind. Here also, two lovers are separated by the woman's death, but in this case the man is not a poet but a researcher in bio-silicate intelligence. Driven by grief, ambition and his governmental paymasters, he will achieve a terrible immortality. 

Back in the present day, if not quite present reality, an upper class man is hunting game in a bleak Scottish glen (Michael Stone's The Devil's Fauna), while interspersed with his hunt are sections from a book called The Fauna Satanica describing how certain animals -- foxes, crows, weasels -- are the devil's minions. As the day progresses we begin to wonder who is hunting who, and then more worryingly in this fine and creepy tale, what is hunting what. 

A hunt is also described in Slayground, where an urban thriller (Kevlar-suited cops in central London) is blindsided by golden age SF. It finishes the collection on an adrenaline high and suggests author Paul Finch could be gainfully pointed in the direction of Hollywood. 

Before that finish has been reached we have also met Spanky Jones (by Hunter Whitcomb) -- suffering from "chronic under-employment" and facing up to the fact that his sometime boss is having sex with his wife; a couple of male nurses eating their Christmas cookies off the body of "coma Carl" (who is all the while accessing dimensions they can't imagine (Rest Stop); and Portus manning a Zippy Mart in the dead hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. (Between The Night People And The Day People, John Colvin), a time when ghosts haunt the parking lot and alien thoughts haunt Portus -- Portus with his phantom thumbs and his dreams of a better life, Portus who lies awake while his pregnant wife sleeps, whispering to their unborn daughter. 

And in these quiet human moments even the monkey cracks a smile.

Read one of the stories from this collection on TQRstories.com.

Mithran Somasundrum was born in Colombo, grew up in London and currently lives and works in Bangkok. He has published short fiction in Natural Bridge, The Sun, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, The Minnesota Review and Zahir, among others, and has a story forthcoming in GUD.
Mithran's other Short Reviews: "Best American Mystery Stories 2007"

James Burr "Ugly Stories for Beautiful People"

Steven Wingate "Wifeshopping"



Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?Yes

Editor: Theodore Q. Rorschalk

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