"The Burning Boy & Other Stories" Book Review

Written by Joe Haward

Published by Beware The Moon Publishing

the burning boy and other stories denver grenell poster large

Written by Denver Grenell
2021, 158 pages, Fiction
Released on July 31st, 2021


The beauty, in part, that an anthology by a single author gives the reader is that we are offered a glimpse into the creative smorgasbord of ideas that fill their mind. Shirley Jackson once said, “Use all the tools at your disposal. The language is infinitely flexible, and your use of it should be completely deliberate.” Denver Grenell is a writer comfortable with their craft, who understands how to use literary tools to great effect. As such, The Burning Boy & Other Stories is a wonderful collection that displays a flexibility and deliberateness of language that keeps the reader entertained throughout.

Grenell starts strongly with “The Offering,” a story drawn from the traditions of ancient myths of gods and sacrifice. What impresses here is the instant affiliation with the main characters. One of the challenges with any short story is drawing the reader deep enough into these brief lives to feel anything for them. “The Offering” is unhindered by such problems; Grandpa Ed, and his granddaughter, Cara, are instantly likeable; two people who mean something to the reader straight from the opening paragraphs. As with a number of the stories, you get a sense with “The Offering” that this one means something to Grenell, that somewhere between myth and storytelling there is a hint of a reality whispering behind the roar of fantasy and fear.

Next up, “The Thirteenth Step,” highlights what will become apparent throughout; Grenell is flexible, switching to a story that has the feel of a psychological piece. It’s a clever expression of humanity’s perennial desire to believe in something, no matter how absurd that something might be. As such, we are left wondering if it could be real, or is it our minds, and the power of cognitive bias, leading us to the illusionary and absurd?

“Lilith” is one of my favourites, a beautiful mix of horror and desire. There is a strong ‘cosmic horror’ feel to this piece, normal life and longings plunged into the weird and spectacular, a growing terror of strange inevitability. “Lilith” gave me Clive Barker vibes, small nods in his direction as worlds change and form in an instant, to only then find your feet back in familiar territory. Yet, now the path has been tread for the reader, things can never be the same again; too much has happened that can never be forgotten. “Lilith'' feels like Grenell’s natural home, a style and substance he enjoys visiting.

The story from which the book gets its title is next, and doesn’t disappoint. “The Burning Boy” holds an almost Frankensteinian feel to it, a warning that people should beware (be aware) of the creatures they create. The main character, Jamie, who tells the story, carries with him the same air of panic and dread that follows Victor Frankenstein. It is within such terror and distress that Jamie searches for ways to end the anguish that now consumes him. But the burning boy is a nightmare that Jamie will not wake up from any time soon.

“Ichor,” “The Grave,” and “Last Kiss,” are each enjoyable stories in their own way. Grenell shows his ability to weave different styles and genres together, keeping the reader entertained, and, at times, making them incredibly uncomfortable! This is the beauty and scale of horror that Grenell makes the most of. “Ichor” and “Last Kiss,” for instance, are completely different genres, telling uniquely different stories, yet both show off Grenell’s writing style and ability. “Last Kiss” might actually be my favourite in the collection, a haunting tale of passion, regret, and revenge.

From here we journey through the mind-bending horror of “Cherub,” and then reach “Corridor.” This is the most poignant piece, and perhaps the most horrifying because of how real it feels. Much has been written in recent years about mental health and school mass shootings, and it's brave of Grenell to tackle this as a subject for a piece of fiction. Whilst the topic dictates the direction, “Corridor” is character-driven. Grenell wants us to hear their voices, understand their stories, and pay attention to their decisions. Fiction is often the vessel for truth.

From the outset, Marianne in “Black, One Sugar,” is the kind of character that you feel invested in, yet hold little affection for. And again, Grenell flips between the dull regularity of everyday life (but never told in a dull way), and cosmic horror. I like the way he seems to challenge himself to re-imagine the monsters that stalk our waking dreams.

“Tunnel” and “Rectify” feel thoroughly human, very different stories that explore the humanness of loss, regret, and watching the world spin and change. “Tunnel,” especially, pulls at the human desire for connection and companionship. And sat in between those stories is “The Bus,” carrying a deliciously inhuman, classic horror story feel. “The Bus” is great fun, offering a variety of enjoyable twists and turns.

The final two pieces, “In Comes the Tide,” and “I See You,” share the feel of hate and heartbreak, revenge, and justice, passion, and the settling of debts. Both pieces highlight Grenell’s flexibility, using his variety of literary tools (as Jackson puts it) to great effect.

The Burning Boy & Other Stories is a wonderful collection. It is obvious that Denver Grenell loves to write, and is passionate about horror and dark fiction. “I see you,” one of Grenell’s unnamed characters declares. “The real you.” This anthology allows us to see a writer who is passionate and committed to their craft; it’s something that can’t be faked. I’m looking forward to whatever Grenell brings next.


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Buy from Amazon UK.

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