Review Index

Edited By JOHN EVERSON (Dark Arts Books; 2008) 

The third release from Dark Arts Books, a publisher specializing in sampler anthologies of genre fiction.  SINS OF THE SIRENS contains stories by four women authors--Loren Rhoads, Maria Alexander, Mehitobel Wilson and Christa Faust--none of whose work, I’ll confess, I was previously familiar with.  I’m pleased to report that all contribute solid writing of an adults-only variety. 

      Loren Rhoads begins the book with four tales grounded in aberrant psychology.  In “The Angel’s Lair” a woman picks up a fallen angel in a bar--yes, an actual angel; the gal for her part is a succubus looking to seduce and devour the angel.  Good story, done with an eye for gritty urban detail and sexual explicitness. 

      Speaking of which, “Still Life with Broken Glass”, Rhoads’s next story, is a satiric take on East Coast art snobs flavored with X-rated levels of lesbian erotica and grue.  But the most effective of Rhoads’ tales in my view is “Sound of Impact”, a short, sharp shocker that proceeds in ominous fashion until an underlying secret is disclosed on the final page that throws the preceding events into a new light.  It’s certainly not the first time such an approach has been tried, but I’ve never read an attempt quite like this one.

      Rhoads’ contributions are, it turns out, the most subtle of the entire book, which only grows steadily more perverse.  Maria Alexander, who according to the author bio works for Disney, is the next writer featured, and has a more frank, down-and-dirty style (cunt being a favored adjective).

      Alexander’s “Pinned” is a wild ride that mixes S&M and voodoo in eye-opening fashion; it’s one of the book’s standout entries.  I found “The Dark River of His Flesh”, about loneliness and resurrection, somewhat less interesting, although it contains some arresting perversity.  So too “The last Word”, in which phantom entries in a man’s diary instruct him on how to run his life--and ultimately impart some really bad advice!

      Mehitobel Wilson follows, contributing for me the collection’s most powerful block of stories.  “Heavy Hands” is about what happens to a guy assailed by invisible hands that act according to the desires of those around him.  Creepy stuff.  “Close” is even creepier--it has a voyeuristic perv finding a way to surreptitiously insert himself into the lovemaking of the couple in the apartment next to his.  The result is a tale strong in graphic detail, but which concludes on just the right note of lyrical abandonment.

      “The Wild” tackles lycanthropy in a wholly individual manner that’s violent, sexual and poetic.  Then there’s “Parting Jane”, told in the form of a journal penned by a nine-year-old girl trapped in a hospital, where she’s subjected to all manner of horrific procedures.  The story represents virtually everything you’ve ever feared about doctors and/or hospitals, and is about as unnerving as they come.

      The final contributions are by Christa Faust, whose three stories are grouped, appropriately enough, from good to very good to great.  “Love, La Llorona” features a woman, a DVD, a murder and a reasonably satisfying twist ending.  The novella-length “Firebird” centers on an addictive vampire-like machine in a gritty future world--think BLADE RUNNER meets CRONOS.  Finally there’s “Tighter”, about a bondage-loving gal who finds total bliss when a guy ties her up with live ropes; it’s not until the end that she discovers what those ropes are made of.  A gross tale, but also an unforgettable one.

      “Tighter” also makes for a fitting conclusion to the collection overall, which if you ask me represents everything great about chick lit: bloodletting, psychosis, torture and perversion!  It will doubtless offend serial misogynists and traditional feminists alike, meaning it’s a book right up my alley, and hopefully yours too.

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