November 2, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Courting Morpheus" by Jodi Lee (editor)

Courting Morpheus
edited by Jodi Lee
Belfire Press (2010)
192 pages
ISBN 9780986483110

I enjoy anthologies, and every now and then there's one that shares a setting rather than a theme which adds a unique flavor to the book as a whole. It gives the sense that every story is connected in some tangible way. In this case, Jodi Lee's fictional town of New Bedlam provides the backdrop for fourteen short stories. Reading the book, I had the inkling that New Bedlam was not totally unlike The Blackstone Chronicles, John Saul's series of stories set within that one town, but New Bedlam is a town of a completely different beast. Not only is it a sandbox for all of the contributing authors, but the stories they write all revolve around writers too--drawn to New Bedlam by some otherworldly compulsion.

New Bedlam is a quaint little town set somewhere between Toronto and New Orleans. The deliberate lack of a pinpoint on a map provides an extra bit of mystery to the place, giving it that "Everytown, U.S.A." vibe. There's a suspected serial killer in town, if the rampant rumors are to be believed, and the murders don't seem to have any rhyme or reason. The thread that connects them is authors--writers that have migrated to New Bedlam from all four corners and exhibit a proclivity towards darker fiction. A town full of horror authors. Perish the thought.

I lucked out by winning a copy of this anthology through a contest Belfire Press. It piqued my interest when I recognized a few of the names in the table of contents. Louise Bohmer I know from reading and reviewing her debut novel, The Black Act. Then I saw Brandon Layng's name, whose short fiction I've already had a chance to read online, as well from visiting his blog regularly. I also saw Camille Alexa listed, who I recognized from the anthology Shadows of the Emerald City, in which we both have short stories published. Then there was Alethea Kontis (we each have stories published in the sci-fi anthology Zero Gravity) who provided the introduction to the book.

Insomnia is the other shared theme in this anthology, and the disturbing dreams and imaginations of the writers holding influence on the real world. Hence the title "Courting Morpheus". It's a cool concept and varied widely by the stories Jodi Lee has selected for the book. There's some atmospheric stuff with Jeff Parrish's "Like Father, Like Daughter", some more eccentric style with Ann Tupek's "Aldevouring Chesterfield", and some stomach-turning horror with Brandon Layng's "Can of Worms." There's definitely something for everyone.

It's a good read and a nice find among the small press, but if you're having trouble sleeping and looking for a book to curl up with in hopes of lulling off to dreamland, I'm not so sure this is the one you'll want to fill your head before you close your eyes.


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