Author Joshua Rex and a mob of ancient Chinese philosophers agree: Life and death are just one long thread, the same line viewed from different sides.
But don’t get too romantic or philosophical about it. Life and death ain’t no bed of roses. They are both, says Rex in his outstanding new anthology titled New Monsters, “the domain of unspeakable perversion and insanity.”
Take for instance a story called “Death. In the Present Tense.” The journey from living to dying becomes a ghastly carnival ride for a young boy obsessed with thanatotic adventures. To him, the world was only beautiful in decay.
While compiling his ongoing death journals, the boy is hoping to bump into “the cliched tall shadow, the hood and robes and the bone hands gripping the stick with the curving blade.” Instead of being smitten by the Grim Reaper, however, he gets hit by a car driven by his dad. The last thing he sees is his father behind the wheel with a woman by his side. She’s wearing a blood-red dress, and her hair is a blonde coif rising from a bare skull. Says the author: “The lipless mouth gaped, its laugh the sound of shrieking tires.”
The transformative power of death is central to a story called “The Blue Meat.” A pioneering family kills and eats a strange blue-skinned animal shaped like a moose with facial expressions more human than beast. The forest creature is eerily similar to the deer god from the movie Princess Mononoke but waaaay more creepy. The tasty Shishigami-like meat turns the family into monsters with the mandate of their blue-skinned “savior” burning within them.
Other enjoyable stories in this collection include: “The Master’s Duty” about a zombie dog that understands the sacred duty shared by pet and master, “The Goliath” about a young boy’s freakish future and “The Squatter” about a ghoul’s inalienable right to live anywhere and do anything he wants. “Dreams in the Furman House” is a story about how brutality is celebrated as a form of kitsch.
If you know anything about my reading habits, you know how much I like a good epistolary novel (Frankenstein, anyone? How about Dracula or Flowers for Algernon?). I was happy to encounter a fine example of epistle writing in New Monsters. And because of my inclination, It’s probably the best thing in the book.
“The Betrothed” is the story of a wily opportunist who somehow inherits a country estate along with the hand in marriage to a comely young lady. “I am now so eager to see the estate and meet my young wife,” writes Julian in a note to his friend Rothchilde. “I shall waste not a moment in placing both tongue and gristle into Mademoiselle du Lyseine’s stinking places.”
Julian has seen a photo of his future wife and his blood was boiling hot. She had a face shaped for receiving kisses. Her hair was the color of light. And her bosom—“Mon dieu!” he exclaims enthusiastically. “I find myself increasingly unable to contain my lust, and have thus relieved myself of that tyrant confiture des testicules (Google Translate: testicle jam) with compulsive abandon.”
Readers know instinctively that Julian is in for a big surprise when he arrives at the Castle of Prayers. As promised, his wife is waiting for him and is ready to satisfy the “primary needs and desires” of her new husband. Her intense devotion, unfortunately, is gross and never-ending.
[New Monsters / By Joshua Rex / First Printing: January 2023 / ISBN: 9781957121413]