Dangerous Red, by Mehitobel Wilson
Necro Publications 2003
$14.95 Trade Paperback
$45.00 Signed/Limited Edition hardcover
One of the uncomfortable realizations I've made as a reader in
recent years is that there is now an entire generation of up-and-coming
horror writers who cut their literary teeth on the fiction published
during the horror tsunami of the 1980's, a majority of which
was a supreme embarrassment to the craft of storytelling that
we're still trying to make up for; so is it possible for
this new generation of writers build a literary foundation on the
influence of that which the field is trying to overcome?
If Mehitobel Wilson's redoubtable debut as a fiction writer, Dangerous
Red, is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes,
and I have nothing to worry about.
Starting with the illustrations by Erik Wilson (no relation to the
author), Dangerous Red effortlessly catches you off-guard;
eschewing traditional central-image depiction, artist Wilson prefaces
each story with a Rorschach-like icon that deliberately leaves its
meaning up to the individual reader's interpretation-and this is
more than a sly stylistic choice on his part: it is a way of informing
the reader that the stories they are about to encounter are much
more than they appear to be at first glance.
Not to imply that the stories in this collection are in any way
nebulous in either structure or execution, because they aren't;
in fact, writer Wilson consistently displays a solid -- and at times,
enviable -- grasp of narrative control that is doubly admirable when
one considers the subject matter some of her stories grapple with:
self-mutilation, spiritual and physical disintegration, a number
of fetishes, social outcasts living on the fringes of society, and
metaphysical revenge, to name a small handful. It would have been
easy-and arguably understandable -- for Wilson to fall victim to stylistic
self-indulgence, but she never does.
Never even comes close.
"Tools Of The Trade", the brilliant opening story, depicts
the slow, agonizing, and total psychological deterioration of Kane,
a man who makes his living cleaning up the detritus of murder and
suicide scenes; interspersed with a coldly clinical listing of the
"tools" he will need for each job is a brief glimpse into
the personal hells that marked the last moments of those whose deaths
Kane confronts with his chemicals, gloves, and mops. With each new
job, part of Kane is tossed out along with the evidence, until --.
Until. You'll find out soon enough.
What makes "Tools" one this collection's most stunning
achievements is Wilson's skill at conveying in deft and subtle strokes
the entirety of each victim's life. In less certain hands, "Tools"
could have easily been three times its 6-page length; in Wilson's
hands, it's a short, sharp, heartbreaking glimpse of how one person's
hell can too easily become our own.
"Jacks"-perhaps the collection's most extreme story-defies
easy description or categorization: suffice to say that it might
very well be the first Cyberpunk-Erotic-Horror-S&M-Romantic
Comedy. It is, by turns, brutal, funny, genuinely erotic, and ultimately -- kind
"Strays" is the closest any story in this collection comes
to being enigmatic; a snapshot of life on the streets where the
homeless may or may not be victims of an uncaring society's human
sacrifice ritual, this story's emotional violence packs an angry
wallop, culminating in a killer of a closing line.
No one is ever going to accuse Wilson of being sentimental-"Growing
Out Of It" alone proves that-but there are nonetheless moments
of luminous tenderness throughout these stories, displaying
a writer whose stories may come off on the surface as bigger than
life, but that are, on closer examination, deeply in touch with
Dangerous Red is a skilled, dazzling, and often deeply affecting
collection of stories from a writer who's only getting warmed up;
if you're like me, then you'll realize early on that once Mehitobel
Wilson kicks it into high gear, it'll be duck-and-cover time.