100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories by Michael A. Arnzen
Raw Dog Screaming Press
$12.95 trade paperback
Those of you who have visited Arnzens web site, or
RDSPs site, or have already purchased this book, know that I provided
a blurb for the cover, so you can safely assume that this is going to be a positive
review. I stand by what I said in my blurb, but decided I wanted all of you
to know why I said it.
Of all story forms, the short-short (defined as a story
clocking in at 1000 words or less) is by far the most difficult, and the one
that can often defeat even the most seasoned writer. The short-short requires
a poets skill at encapsulation of imagery and ideas, as wells as the fiction
writers ability to employ these same elements in the telling of a cohesive
and coherent story and I emphasize those two words because (more
often than not) the short-shorts that appear in the horror field are written
by folks who mistakenly assume that those terms are mutually exclusive, which
they are most decidedly not.
Even the most surreal of short-shorts must adhere to the
structure and internal logic of the short story, regardless of how dreamlike
and bizarre the prose might be. The late Donald Barthelme was arguably the master
of this particular form of story, but with 100 Jolts, Arnzen, without
laying claim to it, emerges as the inheritor of Barthelmes crown.
Consider the following story, used here in its entirety:
A Worse Mousetrap
As I type, the mouse climbs my shoulder and leaps
into my breast pocket. I laugh when his furry gray head pops out. He twitters
his whiskers, watching as I finish my apology. I hug him against my heart. Later,
I will sign my note as the rat poison makes it way through my system.
Looks easy, doesnt it?
Trust me, its not.
In five sentencescount em, fiveArnzen
not only employs the poets skill at encapsulation and the storytellers
ability to form a cohesive and coherent narrative, but also manages to leave
a great deal of the horror unspoken. This is a complete story in every
sense of the word; it has a beginning, a middle, and an end; it has a central
conflict; and it adheres to the single most important rule of fiction: its central
character undergoes a change between the start and the finish. That Arnzen chooses
to convey this through subtleties rather than graphic depictions makes it even
more effective and affecting, adding a great deal of power to that final line.
Every story in 100 Jolts does this, seemingly effortlessly,
time and time again.
One of this collections most jaw-dropping achievement
comes at the very beginning with the section entitled "Skull Fragments";
it contains 12 separate short-shorts, all of which can stand on their own as
disturbing horror stories, but when taken as a whole, tell a 13th
and even more deeply nightmarish tale.
I think 100 Jolts is going to garner a lot of attention
for Arnzen when it comes to awards next year; it is a remarkable achievement, and a book that all serious readers of horror fiction
should have in their hands and on their shelves.