"Enantiodromia" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Amazon
Written by Mike X Welch
2020, 115 pages, Fiction
Released on 20th January, 2020
In the forward to Enantiodromia, Mike X Welch thanks his readers taking a chance on a new voice "…and buying this book from an extremely unknown author". Normally I am reluctant to review collections from "unknown" authors, as the quality can vary greatly, but I was very impressed by the range of stories on offer in Enantiodromia. In the very personal and engaging forward Welch notes that three of his stories have previously been published in anthologies. I’m not surprised by this, as some of those featured are of high enough quality to merit inclusion in any decent horror anthologies kicking around.
With collections, the temptation is often more is better, but Welch bucks that trend and includes only five stories, the two longest and best are saved for first and fifth position in the running order. They are entirely unique from each other but are threaded with the same style of melancholy which I found to be rather moving. Horror is a broad canvas of ideas and themes; this is one of the overwhelming strengths of Enantiodromia, the range of content in offer in the five stories. There is nothing better than reading top-notch short stories on the bounce, having one eye on the next one in line. I usually read collections quite slowly, but "Turning of the Bones" is so striking, it got me in the mood for devouring all five in quick succession.
How often do you read a ghost story set in Madagascar? Not very often I bet… This strange little story opens in 1947 with the ‘rebel’ soldiers fighting the invading French forces. The story is told in the first person from a rebel fighter who is captured and killed in the very early stages of proceedings. I looked up some of the terms used in "Turning of the Bones", which utilises Madagascar mythology and folklore, and found this obscure subject fascinating. If the dead are not buried in the correct manner, there is a funeral tradition called "famadihana", and if this is not honoured, the dead may return as ghosts. But things can get worse; if someone is buried in an unmarked grave and their family does not tend it, then the dead may come back as ghosts, or ‘angatra’, especially if they died violently. This very moving story is built around this cultural philosophy, with the ghost of the dead rebel fighter trying to reconnect his lost body with his surviving family who have no idea where the mass grave is. It is very cleverly set over a period of over fifty years; his family is aware they are being haunted by an ‘angatra’ and the pain of not knowing where he is buried troubles them all. This is a beautiful story of loss and tradition and I felt for the descendants who never gave up trying to find where the bones lay hidden.
I’m going to skip to the final story, "Peta Bebkama Luruba", which has some similarities in style, mood and the loss of family to the above. This time out Welch abandons Madagascar and takes us to Babylon 4,000 BC, where a slave recounts the supernatural events which led to both her emancipation and revenge on her cruel masters. The slave is around ten years old when her first-person narration begins, where she recounts a death a couple of years earlier which had a profound impact upon her life. Jumping forward three years, one of her owners begins to take an interest in her when she hits puberty and the story follows her personal trials of rape and domestic abuse until she discovers a way to connect with her past and the spirits, which refers to the title “Peta Bebkama Luruba”, which is translated as “open the gate for me". This is another thoughtful and clever tale, which like "Turning the Bones", has a great ending.
The other three stories are shorter affairs, featuring comedic moments and some great black humour laced amongst the horror. In "The First and Last Drink of Ilona Odd", a recovering alcoholic waits in a pub in order to pay off a hit man for killing his wife. Things takes a decidedly turn to the dark side after he firstly falls off the wagon and realises he might be the one being played.
"You Might Get It" features another drunk. A grieving widower has his wish come true when his recently-deceased wife knocks on their front door. He is delighted to see the corpse and amusingly tries to resurrect his marriage without quite going into the same territory as the notorious German film Nekromantik! I thought this was slyly funny, which keeps it going until the very memorable ending. Sometimes the big payoff makes a short story, and "You Might Get In" has a killer punchline.
The fifth and final entry is "Tuesdays with Moran’d’arth", which is also darkly funny and I wondered whether it features a sly dig or two at any real-life horror authors. Sandy Kavanaugh is a world-renowned horror novelist with huge sales and a loving family, but with a serious monkey on his back. In reality, Sandy is very miserable, as decades earlier he sold his sold for success and as his health fails, he is beginning to regret it, realising he will soon have to pay the piper. Much added spice is added to this tale as the demon that Sandy sold his soul to also lives in his barn and demands certain, regular, attentions. You’ll have another quiet chuckle at this one.
Readers might think twice about buying a collection from an unknown author, but Enantiodromia is a read with many highlights, featuring a great blend of horror, dark sense of humour and a cleverly selected five stories. Where else can you jump thematically from Babylon 4000 BC, to Madagascar 1947 with three contemporary stories sandwiched between them? Exactly. Recommended.
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