KITCHEN SINK GOTHIC edited by David & Linden Riley. Book review

KITCHEN SINK GOTHIC edited by David & Linden Riley, Parallel Universe Publications, p/b, £9.99/Kindle, £2.99, Web Address

Reviewed by Dave Brzeski

I can’t deny that I picked this one up on the strength of a few authors, whose work I knew I liked a lot. I tend to avoid adding too many anthologies to my to-be-reviewed pile, simply because they involve an awful lot of note-taking as I read, thus taking longer to review than most novels.

Themed anthologies… well, it rather depends. Some tend to be so specific that there’s no way I’m going to even consider reading an entire book full of such thematically related stories in a short period. Thankfully, this anthology doesn’t come with any such burden. There’s plenty of scope in this concept for varied ideas and it’s one which I hope more writers are tempted to explore. Gothic fiction, in the classic sense often tends to be about rich people, living in large houses, if not castles. If poor folks are involved, then they are usually in service, or have been brought up in large foreboding institutions. One can almost understand why the average ghost from a classic gothic novel background might feel more inclined to hang around, whilst those who eked out a more meagre existence would be all to happy to pass on. But no, this is Kitchen Sink Gothic—like Kitchen Sink Drama, only scarier. What’s not to like? No haunted mansions here; no bloodsucking counts. No, the horror here is targeted just where it tends to be in real life, at ordinary people who don’t have enough money to protect themselves—indeed some of the horrors in these stories are quite mundane in origin, but certainly no less terrifying for that.

A reprint in a mostly original collection needs to be good and Stephen Bacon doesn’t let us down. I rather liked the way a vague hint of the weird symbolised the real-world horrors the protagonist had suffered in ‘Daddy Giggles’.

You can’t really have Kitchen Sink Drama set in the 60s without a few hooligans. Mods and Rockers, violence, unwanted pregnancy, forced marriage. In film terms, it’s The Family Way meets Quadrophenia, with added nasty. In less talented hands than Franklin Marsh’s, the excellent ‘1964’ might have been little more than simply bleak and depressing.

Andrew Darlington’s talent for intricately detailing the seedy minutiae of the working class environment brought back so many memories of my own childhood. In ‘Derek Edge and the Sun-Spots’ we see exactly how every day things, along with a little guilt can feed the youthful imagination.

In ‘Black Sheep’, by Gary Fry, Billy’s home-life was far from ideal. His family treat him with disdain—not due to any genuine failings of his own, but because they simply have no appreciation of the benefits of an education. They would prefer him to be out working and bringing in cash, like his sister. He’s nervous at the prospect of going to his girlfriend’s house for a first meeting and a meal with her family. She comes from a much better neighbourhood—a much posher background. Still, they have to be better than his family—don’t they? Fry shows us that the other man’s grass may not be all that greener in a truly terrifying manner.

Jamal Comes Home’, by Benedict J. Jones is one of the more powerfully written tales in this collection. The aching despair of Carole, as she prays for the safe return of her son—even the drug-addicted, untrustworthy remnant of the boy she remembers—is very moving. Jones is not an author I’m all that familiar with, but I’ll be keeping an eye open for more of his work.

Kate Farrell’s ‘Waiting’ reminded me strongly of those classic Alan Bennett Talking Heads pieces—if Alan Bennett had written ghost stories. I liked this one a lot.

If there’s any sort of message in Charles Black’s ‘Lilly Finds a Place to Stay’ it’s that things can always get worse. Not one of my favourites, but mainly because I’d have liked a bit more of it.

I’ve known David A. Sutton for quite some time, even collaborated on projects with him, so it’s perhaps odd that I’d never knowingly read any of his own work. I may well have read some a few decades back, before I’d met him, but not recently enough to remember. He’s never been a prolific writer, but ‘The Mutant’s Cry’ proves that he is certainly a good one. Sutton has been active in horror fandom for decades, so it’s no surprise that the protagonists of this story are horror film fans. For fellow fans, which I suspect is everyone reading this review, this brings an extra connection which works well.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the idea for ‘The Sanitation Solution’ didn’t come to Walter Gascoigne in a dream, as I found it too downright odd to be anything other than a nightmare. That’s not to say it was bad, I rather liked it, but it stretched my credibility a little further than most supernatural-based stories.

Patrick Lynch’s ‘Up and Out of Here’ is an amusing tale of young people with special abilities. It reminded me slightly of the TV show, Misfits, except with less imagination and ambition—the characters, not the author. It’s a testament to Patrick Lynch’s writing skill that he can create characters so lacklustre that they can’t even conceive of any practical advantage to their abilities, yet still make them interesting.

I’ve been a fan of Adrian Cole’s writing for a very long time. ‘Late Shift’ certainly does nothing to change that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, In recent years, Adrian Cole has been producing the best work of his long writing career. I was really taken with his depiction of “Night People”, to the extent that I recognised kindred spirits in them.

The Great Estate’, by Shaun Avery is one of those “community with a dark secret” stories, albeit a particularly unpleasant one. It’s skilfully told, with little chance of the reader working out exactly what is going on—well, at least I didn’t.

I’ve been aware of Jay Eales’ work in comic publishing for years and was aware that he also wrote both comics and prose, but ‘Nine Tenths’ is the first of his work I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It’s possibly the most unusual story in this collection of horror tales and certainly the most psychological in nature.

I confess to being a little disappointed in ‘Envelopes’ by Craig Herbertson. Not that it was bad as such, but it seemed to me so obvious where the story was going that I had rather hoped for a more surprising ending. That’s probably not entirely fair, as it does diverge from my original theory very early on. After that, however, I could very easily see what was coming.

Tunnel Vision’ by Tim Major takes us back into psychological territory as a ten year old boy does something truly disturbing in the belief that he is dying. Another excellent example of horror not needing anything very far outside of the mundane to take root.

MJ Wesolowsky reminds us in the truly nightmarish ‘Life Is Prescious’ (sic) that, especially when we’re young, horror doesn’t have to be writ large to potentially ruin our lives. A simple stupid mistake can have serious repercussions that can set one on the path to other, far more serious errors.

David Turnbull’s ‘Canvey Island Baby’ reminded me of Lovecraft’s Innsmouth while not being in the slightest bit Lovecraftian. I found myself wanting to know more about this strange coastland community.

I did feel that a few of these tales really only met the brief by being not specifically about middle, or upper class people, rather than having a real Kitchen Sink Drama feel, but on the whole this is a solid collection of stories with no absolute duds.