For some reason short stories often don’t work for me. For some reason I’ve always been drawn to big, fat novels – much to the dismay of my book club, whose members always ask, “But how long is it?” when I suggest a book.
On the occasions I do read short stories, they usually fall into the horror/science fiction/fantasy genres. Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, masters of the short story form by anyone’s standards, are my two favorite writers. And Stephen King has done some admirable work in the short story realm – his collection Everything’s Eventual outshines any of his recent novels.
Which brings us to Matinee at The Flame, a short story collection by horror writer Christopher Fahy. This is his first collection of short stories, and the tales are clever, twisty, and sometimes twisted.
If there’s a central theme to the collection, it’s that things aren’t always as they seem. In the eponymous story, an elderly junkman is called to haul away stuff from a long-closed burlesque theater… except when he arrives, the theater seems to be open for business. In the most disturbing story, “The Blumberg Variations”, a Jewish man buys a KKK uniform at an auction with the intention of destroying it, but soon finds it wields an unhealthy power over him. Most moving is probably “Want” in which a woman living a dead-end existence gets the chance at a fantasy fling with her favorite rock star…who happens to be years dead.
Most of the stories are nicely effective, although I guessed the twist of “A Fire in the Brain” after the first paragraph. Fahy has an atmospheric style (though sometimes too free-and-easy with the adjectives) and I’m sufficiently impressed to seek out one of his novels. The stories are reasonably restrained – no Clive Barker splatter or Harlan Ellison disturbance to be found here. But they’re well-suited for a chill up the spine on a cold autumn evening.
My major complaint with the collection is that too many of the stories have a similar setup, pace, and payoff. At times it’s like watching a marathon of Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes, and Fahy is too reliant on the twist. And once you start expecting twists, they cease to be twists.
Overlook Connection Press has put together a very nice trade paperback edition, with detailed black-and-white illustrations for each story (the artist is Glenn Chadbourne). Fahy’s fans may want to seek out the signed limited edition hardcover of Matinee at The Flame, which has an additional story.