Horror Story

By Robert Boyczuk

Despite its playfully generic title, only a handful of the nineteen stories by Robert Boyczuk in this debut collection are traditional tales of horror and suspense involving monsters, vampires, and murderous evil spirits. Instead it is an anthology of genre-bending weirdness ranging from horror to literary metafiction to sci-fi. If there is a box to put Boyczuk into it is one he shares with a new generation of talented outside-the-box Canadian surrealists, including names like Paul Glennon, Chris Eaton and Tim Conley.

The stories do, for the most part, share a common theme. They deal with relationships that have gone bad, turned toxic with secrecy, jealousy, and obsession and typically ending in a kind of death-in-life liebestod. A nasty pink creature stalks the streets of “Gaytown.” An astronaut finds herself a universal “Object of Desire” when she passes through a gravity well into another dimension. A young man heads to “The Love Clinic” to get rid of his own unwanted desires. Three is a crowd when their spaceship is damaged in “Shika.” An obsessed scientist tries to find a “Cure for Cancer,” using the woman who jilted him as guinea pig. A frightening game of relationship Survivor takes place in an isolated cabin in “Tabula Rasa.” Appetite gets out of control “When Fat Men Love Thin Women.” In these and other stories a grim sexual nemesis, hungry for blood, is on the loose.

All of the variety makes Horror Story a lot of fun, and Boyczuk has a real knack for creating creepy Twilight Zone-style atmospherics that keep you looking over your shoulder. The scary stuff is often made more threatening by being kept just out of sight, concealed in shadows or half hidden behind a window. Although stylistically the writing is undeniably effective – as with all the best genre fiction your eyes start to race in all the right places – it can also feel genre’s gravitational pull toward the formulaic. But at least some of the time this is made to seem justified. The first story, for example, takes the form of a series of letters written by a pompous literary editor whose dedication to his job leads him on a bizarre spelunking adventure. And the final story has a drunken police detective facing the possibility that his amateur writing efforts have come to life.

Boyczuk writes stories with a twist, or a turn of the screw, that breathes new life into some of the old forms and creates fiction as clever as it is entertaining.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, January 2009.

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