Shock Totem #4
edited by K. Allen Wood
Shock Totem Publications (2011)
Lee Thompson was charitable enough to give away a few copies of Shock Totem's latest issue and I was lucky enough to snag one. When it comes to periodicals, I buy the electronic versions exclusively because of shipping costs to Canada, so this was a real treat. I bought and read a Kindle edition of Shock Totem #1 not too long ago and was eager to read some more.
This time around there was a very diverse ensemble of authors from varying backgrounds, with established names like Weston Ochse, as well as first publications for authors like Tom Bordonaro. There's also a couple of interviews, one with Kathe Koja that turns into an opining on the state of publishing today, and a chat with one of this issue's contributing authors, Renny Sparks, that includes discussion about her music career. And one of the missing sections from digital editions is the book review portion, with some interesting looks on books, films, and albums by John Boden, Robert J. Duperre, and the witticisms of Ryan Bridger. There's also a brief essay by head honcho, K. Allen Wood, that provides a surprising punch to the stomach.
As far as the stories are concerned, this issue begins with a tragic gem by Lee Thompson called "Beneath the Weeping Willow," about Davey, a young autistic boy's ordeals within his family as he and his older brother, Jacob, cope with the break-up of their parents' marriage. The story is told in the rare second-person perspective, which is a hard nut to crack, but Lee seemed to have the perfect story in which to use it. As for the relationship between Davey and Jacob, it's heartbreaking and all too believable.
From there, we jump into the absurd with the debut story of Tom Bordonaro, "Full Dental," about an office worker at his wit's end over the demonic coworkers he must work alongside. Tom wanted to approach this story in the same way you might approach a sketch comedy routine, and I think he hits just the right note with the juxtaposition of bloody mayhem and office politics.
I think my favorite story of the bunch came from a very short story by Michael Penkas called "Dead Baby Day." Now, before you get your quills up, the title is a tad misleading. It's really about two brothers. Unlike, Lee Thompson's Davey and Jacob, Michael's Luke and Mark don't have quite so caustic a relationship. Mark does rib his little brother about his origins as they lay in their beds. You know how big brothers are sometimes: a-holes. Well, Luke's imagination starts running wild when Mark tells him about Dead Baby Day, which happens to fall on Luke's birthday. Creepy, funny stuff.
There's plenty more packed into the 130 pages and is a kind of three-ring circus for dark fiction. Don't like the clown car? Then stick around for the lion tamer. And make sure you read Cafe Doom Competition winner's story, "Fade to Black," by Jaelithe Ingold. It feels a tad predictable at first, but the ending remedies that.