Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales (Fran Friel, 2008) – Fran Friel rounds up a diverse collection of humanity’s darkest thoughts, delving into the depths of deranged minds.
Psycho, but not quite. Depravity meets wit and unexpected grace, making for a oddly delectable stew.
“And that’s why I love you.” The mostly harmless Valentine’s Day prompt sparked an unusually disconcerting inspiration for author Fran Friel, introducing us to an exciting voice in the horror world.
Objectionable motifs spawn in her strange and brilliant debut Mama’s Boy, a title that betrays its echoes of Bates Motel’s notorious proprietor(s). Familiar elements nevertheless feel more like a satisfying reinterpretation, rather than a direct rip-off.
Shuddering chills never falter in the hands of an unflinching and vivid storyteller. Friel’s immediately distinct writing style dismisses the pesky and inevitable accusations of mimicry from Psycho fans.
“‘This little piggy went to market,’ it giggled. ‘This little piggy stayed home. This little piggy had roast beef.” Then it screamed, ‘But this little piggy had no fucking toes to keep counting because Henry Fucking Rutt cut them off!’”
Disturbing Oedipus complexes remain fascinating despite their gruesome outcome. Sympathetic characters share interesting relationships built on trauma, conflicts and mania. What should deter, instead seduces with all its potential distaste.
Strong as it is, the main course surprisingly does not measure up to the entrées. The remainder of the collection shows off stronger novelty than the titular novella, banishing any expectations of fillers that only serve as a build-up to the finale. With her imaginative prose and an antipathy to the conventional, Friel paints the most vile and depraved pictures with rare finesse.
“Babies fell from the skies over Eastville. They bounced, they bled, but none cried. Their silence was eerie—their tiny bodies splatted and split open as they hit the rooftops, the road, and the sidewalks of our little street. For miles and miles, the sky was full of falling babies, dark blots against the blue.”
Out of many lingering plotlines, the impressive opener Beach of Dreams turned out to be the most enjoyable. With gradual grace, it leads us on an unforgettable spiritual journey out of a surrealist’s monstrous nightmare. The slightly tedious Fine Print is one of few letdowns that dull the persistent tension, in an otherwise excellent collection of unique flash fiction and darkly beautiful poetry.