The stated intent of The Monster’s Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyes, the Christopher Golden-edited anthology, is nothing if not ambitious. The concept – a collection of stories that show monsters as sympathetic, not heroic – is tricky enough on its own, a long step into more mature territory than the too-prevalent vampiric moping that’s meant to let us know that bloodsuckers really aren’t such bad people. Then, throw in Golden’s restriction on the subject matter – no low-hanging fruit, i.e. no vampires or zombies – and things get really interesting.
The best story in the book, hands down, is the penultimate piece, Gary Braunbeck’s “And You Still Wonder Why Our First Impulse Is To Kill You” is not only the highlight of the book, but it stands up as one of the best stories Braunbeck’s written in his illustrious career. Experimental in construction, it has all of the author’s trademark power with a newfound sense of playfulness, alternating between the heart-wrenching and the genuinely humorous with graceful ease.
Sadly, not all the stories live up to Braunbeck’s exceedingly high standards. The rest of the anthology is a bit uneven, with some impressive highs and a couple of lows. The plus side of the ledger starts with Nate Kenyon’s “Breeding the Demons”, which offers a disturbingly fresh take on the old artist-girlfriend-muse love triangle. Tom Piccirilli’s “The Cruel Thief of Rosy Infants” is surprisingly gentle riff on the changeling myth wherein the monstrousness is someplace more familiar than Fairyland. “The Screaming Room” by Sarah Pinborough tweaks the rules of the gorgon myth to deliciously sadistic effect, and Jeff Strand’s darkly comic “Specimen 313” is a charming tale of love among the man-eating plants. Tananarive Due’s “The Lake” and David Liss’ “The Awkward Age” also hold up the side; the former’s a story of unexpected transformation, while the latter introduces a ghoulish Lolita to a man’s crumbling marriage.
Less entertaining is Heather Graham’s “Wicked Be”, in which a Salem-vintage witch delivers a lecture on tolerance to the local magistrate that wouldn’t sound out of place on a modern college campus quad. “Jesus and Satan Go Jogging In The Desert” by Simon Green doesn’t offer much new in a shaggy dog take on the well-furrowed Satan-isn’t-such-a-bad-guy-to-hang-out-with field, and David Moody’s “Big Man” buries a moving resolution under a pile of rushed exposition.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility to suggest that the Braunbeck story alone is enough to justify the purchase price. Throw in the contributions from Due, Liss, et alia, not to mention big guns like Kelley Armstrong and Jonathan Maberry, and there’s certainly enough in The Monster’s Corner to make it a worthwhile read. It’s just a little disappointing that with such a strong and interesting premise, not all the pieces manage to take advantage of it.
(St. Martins Griffin, 2011)