Saturday, October 13, 2018

[Book Spoiled] North American Lake Monsters

The book, North American Lake Monsters, is a collection of short stories that I reviewed <<< LINK here >>>.  Read that first, without it, this will have little context.

Seriously, the following is absolutely full of spoilers, and I don't want to hear about it.  Well, for the stories that I actually like, I still try to keep them a little spoiler free, but the first story ... that one I lay out ALL the main points.




You Go Where It Takes You is the first story in the collection.  It was both a monster as excuse and a first chapter.  We follow a waitress and single mom.  Our monster is this guy, when we first meet is described as ugly, that has the ability of changing skins, just pulling off his old skin and putting on another person.  The monster is polite and honest.  The waitress, overworked and stressed uses the trauma of watching this guy change skins to literally run away and dump her kid at a roadside rest.  It threw me for a loop because there wasn't a warning that she was already that cracked.

I am reminded of that moment in the first Men In Black movie at the first firing range test (( I found it )), where the Hero simply recognizes the aliens as just doing their thing.  The presented monster is actually polite and simply weird, so I guess I saw him as red herring.  The "monster" didn't convince her to run away from her life, she wasn't infected by something.  That monster could have been a crack rock, and she'd have done the same.  Maybe that is why I have so little patience for this story.

It was also a premise, a first chapter in that this could make a great larger story arc in so many directions.  What happens to the child left behind?  What other adventures does the skin changing monster have?  When does the run-away mom find her past has caught up with her?  We'll never know.

I read this story in 2014, threw the book on a shelf and only recently picked it back up.  I was THAT disappointed by the first story.  Thing is, monster as red herring or MacGuffin, sets the tone for several other stories in this book.

The next story, Wild Acre, was definitely more of a thriller.  It starts off as a werewolf story.  A guy and his two employees sit at a construction site, staying in wait for vandals that had been breaking things at night.  This guy goes into the woods to take care of personal business, and sees a kid turn into a werewolf, then kill his employees.  He runs away in his truck, not even trying to use the gun he has on him.  This happens at the very start of the story.  The rest of the story is the spiral of PTSD this guy goes down and how he becomes a human monster.  Unlike the first story, there was an evil trauma he witnessed.  I didn't love it, but it didn't turn me off, and this is what got me to force myself to read the rest of the stories.

S.S. is a story about a young man being recruited by a group of white supremacists and the very human need to belong.  This story hits another one of my sour notes... when I cannot empathize with any of the main characters, I'm literally trying to figure out something to care about.  The mother is a very interesting character who I would enjoy hearing a deeper story about, instead, she was a tertiary character at most.

The Crevasse, co written with Dale Bailey, brings the stress and wonder of a Lovecraft's Cthulu without the breaking of physics.  Of all the stories, this one has the most impact on me.  As with most of the stories here, I was left wanting to know more about the story, and what else happens to the people who we're introduced to, but the ending wasn't brutally cold (well, then again, it is set in Antarctica).

The award winning story, The Monsters of Heaven, was really not for me.  Lack of empathy for the characters strikes again.  I will give it this, it was disturbing in that I've thought of this story more than any other, and in this case it is straight up feeling bad for the monster.

Sunbleached is a vampire story, a story of loss, hubris and the angst of youth.  This story sticks out as having a powerful ending.  I liked this one a lot.  This was scary like a movie.  It had a Creepshow vibe.

The title story, North American Lake Monsters, similar to the first story, felt like a beginning of a premise instead of a fully realized story.  I suppose these types of endings are supposed to leave me feeling haunted, but instead I feel like I lost out on hearing more.  This was also a case of having no empathy for the main character, and I recognized him as waiting to be sprung.  The monster, in this case, infected him, but somehow didn't seem to affect his daughter who first came into its contact.

The Way Station, is a very interesting story.  It is about being haunted in a way that the haunting manifests itself into the real world.  This story is a bit drunk and drug addled, and in this case the monster is human, actually a predator, AND not the main character.

The last story was The Good Husband.  This was depressing.  Wife kills herself, her husband finds her in time, but with this being the fourth attempt, he just wanders away and goes back to sleep.  How's that for an empathetic character?  When she comes down from the bathroom in the morning, asking for coffee, bloodless and cold things get weirder.  The ending of this one was also cold and abrupt.  There's really no resolution here, and I had no empathy for anyone but their daughter who was away at college.

So, there we go, a deep spoilery dive on what didn't work for me.  Let me know if you want to see more of this.

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