Come close, Wild Things – not too close, the Dragon has been known to bite – but do venture in, because she has a treat for you today. The Dragon never would have found this exquisite collection of Robert Dunbar’s short stories had this book not been recommended to her. Now the Dragon recommends it to you, because we all love to be frightened and we all love to love.
Robert Dunbar gives you the best of both worlds by bringing together fourteen stories with the unified themes of love and loss intertwined with the macabre. Relationships have many realities, and Dunbar manipulates those realities with skill to explore the darkest regions of love. The result is a collection of stories that you will want to savor again and again.
Reviewing any anthology is difficult, because I have to pick and choose which stories to highlight. If I had to choose my favorite example of Dunbar’s talent for distorting reality, I would tell you to read “Like a Story.” Young Kurt and his hero-worshipping follower, Max, are off to kill a monster. This is Bradbury gone terribly, terribly wrong. Dunbar’s prose pulled me so deep into these boys’ adventure that my heart was pounding by the end.
“Gray Soil” is vampires done right, gritty and dark, as a mother protects and nourishes her children even unto death. “Red Soil” continues the theme of familial love with the story of a young man who valiantly tries to save his sister’s life. Yet the crown jewel in this collection (for the Dragon, anyway) was “Mal de Mer.” Here is the tale of a woman slowly becoming unraveled, helpless before the loneliness ravaging her life.
Yet in all this Lovecraftian madness, Dunbar never loses sight of his characters’ humanity. This is dark fiction with a soul that will make you think about the characters and their moral dilemmas long after you put these tales aside. Sometimes funny, more often poignant, and ever haunting, the Dragon found the stories in Martyrs & Monsters are worth reading again and again.
And so shall you.