Abnormal Statistics - by Max Booth III
Max Booth III has a talent for writing uncomfortably awkward horror. I’m going to get that out on the table right from the start here – a part of what attracts me to his horror are the inevitable moments in his stories where you just know that what a character does is fundamentally wrong. Weird wrong – the kind of wrong thing to do, or the wrong reaction to make, that no one else would have thought of. The kind of wrong that makes you wonder for only a second where that thought for the story originated before you quickly suppress that urge because you really don’t want to know.
Case in point – the opening “Short” from Abnormal Statistics, “Indiana Death Song”. Now I know, from reading the Author’s note at the back of the collection, that some of the events in the stories are based on the author’s personal life. Not everything, just some things…but there are so many elements in the story here that make me squirm that you have to wonder exactly how Max managed to live outside of his teens, and frankly, the state of him now. What parts are we to take as based on fact? I’m not going to list the various elements here, as it would ruin the short, but I thought I had a weird childhood, being run over by a lorry and kept in hospital for 4 years after waking up from a coma and remembering nothing before waking up. Max got that beat. Let me explain: Max is the king of weird. And I have to say, I love it, I’m repulsed by it, I’m in awe of it, whilst being glad-to-keep-it-at-arms-distance-impressed.
This collection is something else.
Collections are weird creatures. Most often the stories in collections have common threads or voices, and similar endings – you kind of expect the endings or fit into the mindset of the author enough to have a rough inkling of where they are going to go. Not so – Abnormal Statistics. Honestly the weird here shines through. There’s beauty in taking a story like “Disintegration is quite painless” where the coming of age/semi-love story of a young boy meeting a girl through his friends (his friend’s sister) goes into territory where they go off on an adventure into the dunes, and you think there is going to be some truth to the local legend of the man living in the dunes, but no, Max has something randomly weird and bizarre waiting for you there, and you realize that the storytelling leading us there did exactly that, hook, line and sinker. It’s remarkable, to be able to build up an expectation in the reader by character work so spotless, you don’t even realize there was a bomb about to drop on you. And it doesn’t feel staged. It doesn’t feel like Max got bored with his story and decided to write a weird ending because he wanted it Bizzaro. It feels like the short was always going to end up with the kid as the new reptile god of the Armageddon the cult of reptiles was waiting to unleash. Because – why not? Obviously! Duh!
Max doesn’t think outside of the box, he’s opened it and lives inside it. He’s Pandora’s box’s resident rodent, and he’ll nip at the mind of anyone daring to look inside.
There are flashes of genius here, shorts that leave the avid horror reader sated and satisfied. Among my favorites was the short-short (in relation to the other shorts) “Boy takes after his mother”, which I never wanted to end and was my favorite of the collection (because – well – it just gave me a warm, fuzzy glow to see a monster do well), “You are my neighbor” which has that wonderful element of neighborhood horror, but still manages to confound your expectations, “Scraps”, which has to be based on Max’s personal working life experiences, and “Munchausen”, which was one of those stories where you always knew the ending, you just needed to read it through to get the closure.
Honestly, there’s not a bad story here. “Video nasties” I had read from a previous collection, so I knew it – it’s the nastiest of the bunch, remorseless in its execution, too lifelike for me – it’s the horror that is too real, the same reason I don’t watch horror movies – it’s all too possible, and the motivations of the antagonists beyond rationalization. Again, though it is something I found repugnant, here, amongst every story, which takes the reader on a different trail – wonderful. Genius. I can appreciate the scope while vomiting from the contents.
And that’s what you are buying here. Max’s phenomenal range of storytelling.
5 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s, and I’ll need a break before attempting to read you again, Max, but I’ll be thinking about your stories for a long while to come. “Indiana…” made me uncomfortable on so many levels. If we ever meet, I might need to use hand sanitizer shortly afterward but know that I do so lovingly.
My thanks to Netgalley and Max Booth III for an ARC. My review represents my honest and unbiased opinion.
You can buy Abnormal Statistics by clicking on the appropriate Amazon link, below:
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