New Moon on the Water
by Mort Castle
DarkRegions Press (2012)
Before I read this short story collection, my only familiarity of Mort Castle work came from his nonfiction, particularly On Writing Horror. That was one of the first books on writing that I bought when I started putting pen to paper. You'd think in all those years I'd have sought out his stories. Go figure. Well, New Moon on the Water helped remedy that.
Now, the way I understand it, this book from Dark Regions Press is a re-release of sorts of an earlier collection called Moon on the Water. The key difference being there are over a dozen new stories added in this new version. It's all new to me, though.
Right off the bat, I realize this isn't the usual collection that I'm used to, as this one contains some pieces that explore style and form to degrees I find utterly uncommon in fiction. Literary, perhaps. Evocative, undoubtedly. "Defining Horror" is a fast little piece that feels like a staccato essay on the genre and what it is and what it can be. Then it gets into what I would call the red meat of the book, with a story called "If You Take My Hand, My Son," as Johnny confronts death, regret, bitterness, forgiveness, and the father he never thought he'd forgive. That one, so quick into the book was a real kick in the teeth. A similar story, as far as impact goes, was "Love, Hate, and the Beautiful Junkyard Sea" and an unrequited love story that was as unsettling as it was romantic.
A favorite from the collection was "The W.W. II Pistol." A bitter, anger man with a beautiful wife and no friends finally hits a tipping point with the less wholesome folks at the bar he frequents. I guess the daily threats of blowing everyone away with his W.W. II pistol got to be too much aggravation for them and now it's time for Joe to pay. There was this tea kettle vibe through the story, never sure if or when things would come to a head, and when they finally did it didn't play out anywhere near how I expected. Another one that really stuck out with me was "The Running Horse, The High, White Sound." That was a sad, angry revenge tale. Misspent youth and senseless violence, and even more senseless vengeance. It felt like a period piece set in late-20th century New York with all the grime and grit one could hope for.
The book runs the gamut with little bits of flash fiction like "14 Short Horror Stories," some humor twists like "Upstairs, Downstairs, and All About", Vampires", and combinations of the two like "Bonds." Not all of the stories reach the bleachers, with a couple feeling quite murky as I read through them, one or two feeling a bit too disjointed for my tastes, but the overall impression I had was the collection certainly deserved to be brought back onto store shelves. I don't think I can sum up Mort Castle's writing in this book any better than this blurb by Jack Ketchum: "Mort Castle is a writer who loves word play, but like every writer worth his salt remembers that even for kids, play is a serious business."
That about says all you need to know.