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Split Scream Volume 3
Patrick Barb & J.A.W. McCarthy
Dreadstone Press’s Split Scream series has a simple premise: put two thematically similar novellas together, like an old-school double feature. Split Scream volumes one and two were great—Volume Two, with M. Lopez da Silva’s What Ate the Angels might be my favorite. Split Scream Volume Three, with novelettes by indie standouts Patrick Bard and J.A.W. McCarthy, rocks as hard as the first two.
Admittedly, I’m an easy mark for these books. As the world wakes up the hard-punching power of a good novella or shorter novelette, I’m cheering it on, though they’ve always been more accepted in the horror genre, probably thanks to the triune forces of magazines, serializations, and Stephen King. These bite-size books make a perfect afternoon read—I beach-read Volume Three. Though indie horror novellas tend toward the literary side, they don’t demand the hard braining and intellectual will I often need to summon when I sit down with a full-length work. Call me lazy, but I like it.
That lessened investment, I think, gives the reader more incentive to work with concepts like narrative disorientation (a key point in Barb’s So Quiet, So White) and shifting timelines (part of McCarthy’s Image Expulsio: The Red Animal of Our Blood). With less space, we know the answer’s coming soon; we don’t have to spend sixty to a hundred pages wondering what the hell’s going on before we settle into the story. There’s a time and place for that, and I love those works, too. But sometimes, I want to nestle into world more quickly.
Another reason I’m a sucker for Split Scream Volume Three: its theme is art and artists, specifically how we use it in community (check out Collage Macabre as well if the theme holds specific appeal). Barb’s atmospheric novella is a disorienting, creepy-vibed delight, with its dreary-dark-woods setting playing a major role. Barb’s a master at building tension and picking apart family dynamics; this novella lets those talents shine. McCarthy’s dual timelines build to a stunning conclusion. Both go in exactly the right directions. You won’t see the endings coming, but you’ll shut the book (Kindle) satisfied: Yes, I thought at the end of each. That’s what had to happen. It’s the only thing that could possibly happen. There’s a little glow that comes with that. You’re pleased with the story, pleased that its conclusion wrapped up so well, that it came together so neatly. I held back a grin at the end of each—yes, they were horrifying in the right ways. But they’re perfectly so.
Both works ask what we’ll do for love and what we’re willing to give to others. Answer: probably more than we should, but we’ll give it willingly. While Barb shows it in a familial context, McCarthy delves into relationships. Despite their thematic similarities, the works are very different, not only in point of view (Barb’s is third person, McCarthy’s a terrifyingly immediate first), but also in gender and tone. Both serve up some fantastic dread—you know these won’t end well—and while Barb’s slow atmospheric dread draws the reader along, Image Expulsio’s dual timeline will keep you going with its sheer otherness. Both get weirder as they go along, and that’s a very, very good thing.
Novellas are good. Weird novellas are even better. Pick this one up from Dreadstone so you don’t give bucks to to ‘Zon. Read it on the beach for a serious horror power move.
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