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  A WEB OF BLACK WIDOWS
By
SCOTT WILLIAM CARTER (PS Publishing; 2010)

This brisk 97-page collection, the seventh of PS Publishing’s “Showcase” series, contains six stories. All are extremely well written and imagined, and linked by a number of elements. In his introduction author Scott William Carter claims the thematic similarities “happened by accident” yet acknowledges them just the same. Its impossible to ignore the fact that all these tales take place in modern-day America and deal with longing and desperation in various horrific ways.

     The title story is a stunner, an altogether unique depiction of longing, madness and (possibly) the supernatural, involving several protagonists and some disquietingly lifelike spider tattoos. “The Woman Coughed up By The Sea” is very nearly a sequel, beginning as it does with a woman’s body washing up from the sea--which is how “Web” ended. Here, though, the action is more contained, with an artist finding the corpse and attempting to use it as inspiration for his paintings.

     The eerie and poetic “Black Lace and Salt Water” deals with by-now familiar elements, namely the artistic impulse, a pregnant woman and the ocean. “She’s Not All There” has a far more impish, dark humored air, being the outrageous account of a young man haunted by his dead spouse, who demands he make a spectacle of himself at weddings so she can become whole again. This story may initially appear to have little to do with its predecessors, but its surprisingly soulful outcome firmly places it in their orbit.

     “Front Row Seats,” on the other hand, is from start to finish very much in keeping with the book’s overall tone. Its protagonist is a desperately lonely man attempting to find solace in the movies, and haunted by a spectral starfish that plays essentially the same role as the spider tattoos of the opening story.

     “Static in A Still House” finishes the collection out. Like the rest of these stories it pivots on loneliness, in this case that of a broken man attempting to work up the nerve to ask out a Goodwill receptionist. The man finds he can somehow hear his future with the woman as his wife. That future turns out pretty bleak, yet the story ends on a hopeful note, as do most of its companion pieces. As Carter intones in his intro, “as dark as any of these stories get, there’s hope in there, too. There has to be. Otherwise, why write at all?”

     

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