Edward Lee is one of those rare authors who occupy a lot of space on my bookshelves (with the likes of The Minotauress, Incubi, The Haunter of the Threshold, Ghouls, and Succubi) but who has yet to make it into the 'read' pile. For that reason, I figured why not start with a sampling of his work and dive into the short stories of Carnal Surgery. After all, that's how I first became a Clive Barker fan, and it's a large part of what won me over to Stephen King so many years ago.
I won't go into detail on all the stories included here, but instead I thought I'd share some thoughts on my favourites:
The Seeker - A gory, graphic, disgusting tale that delivers exactly what I expected from Edward Lee. The casual way in which the depravities are handed out is entirely chilling, with the events in the bar (including the woman who deliberately throws up pizza and beer in the protagonists mouth) the most 'normal' atrocities we are doomed to encounter.
Please Let Me Out - Probably the most subtle and down-to-earth of all the tales, but also one of the most disturbing. Basically you have an insecure, older woman who likes to be in a position of power. Not only does she steal an employee's boyfriend, but she keeps him locked up as slave to her insatiable sexual appetites
Hands - This was one of my favourites, a classic tale of a reporter coerced into reporting on a serial killer who likes to take women's hands as a souvenir. If only he weren't so good at his job, and the police captain so clearly the perfect suspect, things might not have come to such a delicious twist at the end. A lot of atmosphere and suspense here, with a few genuine surprises at the end.
The Table - A very short story, with a great twist at the end . . . even if I did see it coming. Here you have a sadomasochistic young woman with a furniture fetish, a coroner's table with a gruesome history, and a bar pick-up who wants to play along. Most of it's talk, and the real horror comes beyond the final paragraph, but very effective.
The Piece of Paper - Quite possibly the strangest tale in the collection, an entirely pointless exercise in gruesome horror that is justified/redeemed by the twist-upon-a-twist at the end. This one made me laugh . . . and then feel guilty for doing so.
Make a Wish - Absolutely the best part of the collection, and a great way to end things. It's really three stories converging in a bar, with a bit of a morality play, a commentary on racial/social prejudice, and the nature of human greed. Again, Edward Lee is all about the twists, and here he layers them on top of one another until the glorious finale where all becomes clear.
A solid, if uneven collection, there was definitely enough here to make me want to give one of his novels a chance next. When the stories worked, they worked very well, and I wholly appreciate his willingness to go all the way, the follow the depravity to its logical end, and to just have fun with the material.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins