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Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales
Fran Friel

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he imagined for a moment that the past weeks had been a mere nightmare, that he would find his mother warm and asleep in her own bed. But as he struck the flint to the candle, he knew he was alone, completely alone for the first time in his life. He began to recall the swimming feeling in his head when the Inquisitor read the judgment. He tore his thoughts away from the image of his mother-and of the gallows she'd be hanged from."

Reviewed by Carol Reid

Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales is a meaty collection, serving up both the filet mignon of micro-fiction and the slab-like expanse of novella. Why the heavy-handed references to butchered flesh? I think I'll leave that question unanswered, for now. I will say that Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales should be avoided by the squeamish and easily rattled, but there is much more to savor here than gore. 

Fran Friel is a generous, spellbinding storyteller. Her love of a well-told tale is clear, from the first words of the opening story, Beach of Dreams: "With dawn still hours away, the storm howled in the cavernous spaces between the carcasses on the beach." The protagonist, Simon Rodan, intends to examine evidence of the existence of monsters from two equally inadequate perspectives. He has spent his life studying humanity but is obsessively self-centered. Buried deep in his psyche are the nightmares which draw out monsters and whet their appetites. This story takes the reader on a dark journey with a surprisingly gentle ending. 

Gravy Pursuits struck me as worthy of a Tales from the Crypt treatment. Leonard Hogtire loves his gravy, and he is growing ever fonder of the little librarian, Miss Appledine, one of the very few who shows Leonard any kindness. Guess who's coming for dinner? 

My favorite in this collection is The Sea Orphan, the tale of a plucky, put-upon young hero whose mother is hanged as a witch. Friel doesn't flinch from the array of dangers which face an unprotected boy in eighteenth century Virginia. Will Pennycock must deal with all manner of cruelty, from paranoid witch-hunting villagers to pederastic pirates, but just as magic has doomed his mother, it ultimately saves Will. 

What I find interesting about many of these stories is that kindness is presented as being as random and inexplicable as evil. Often in Friel's stories, the two become conjoined and deeply confused. This theme appears in many guises and manifests itself literally in very short pieces such as Connected at the Hip and at length in the Bram-Stoker-award-nominated novella, Mama's Boy

In her author's notes, Friel says: "Mama's Boy had a strange growth process. It started as a micro-mini flash fiction response to a Valentine's Day writing prompt. The prompt was simply, 'And that's why I love you.' " Friel follows the progress of twisted, toxic love through generations, a love which reaches its full expression through murder. 

I had a bit of trouble with Fine Print, the other novella in this collection. This is a story of secret societies and deals with dark forces and the nature of free will which felt to me more like a novel that went through the dryer or a short story that was hung too long by its sleeves. 

Stephen King is famously quoted as saying that the highest aim of dark fiction is to terrify, the second to horrify. Friel achieves moments of terror and horror in this collection. King's quote ends with, "If I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud." Close Shave, all fifty seven words of it, goes for the gross-out. I won't forget this one, no matter how I try!

Read one of the stories from this collection on the Apex Book Company web site

Carol Reid
lives and writes in a small community on the west coast of Canada. She is an assistant fiction editor of Sotto Voce magazine.

Carol's other Short Reviews: "Crimini: The Bitter Lemon Book of Italian Crime Fiction"   
"Passport to Crime: The Finest Mystery Stories from International Writers"

Richard Matheson "Button, Button: Uncanny Stories"

Andrew Porter "The Theory of Light and Matter"

PublisherApex Book Company

Publication Date: June 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Mama's Boy novella  nominated for 2006 Bram Stoker Award for Long Fiction

Author bio: Fran Friel writes and blogs on the coast of southern New England. Her work has been featured in the 2006 anthology Horror Library, Volume 1, and has appeared online and in print in Insidious Reflections, Wicked Karnival, The Lightning Journal, Lamoille Lamentations, The Eldritch Gazette and Dark Recesses Press.

Read an interview with Fran Friel

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Apex Book Company

Author's recommended bookseller: Horror Mall




And...don't forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit  IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near you in the US

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What other reviewers thought:

Dark Scribe Magazine


Shanna Wynne


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