Book Review: Lethal Kisses, Ellen Datlow, ed.

lethal kisses“He came to see that curses and blessings were often interchangeable.”

Originally published: 1996. Yeah, a re-print. But it’s edited by Ellen Datlow. I’ve loved every anthology she’s ever worked on. World’s Best Fantasy and Horror.  ‘Nuff said.  And this is a 90s horror anthology I’d never gotten my hands on. Inconceivable!  After letting myself run loose through this collection, I’ve gotta say that while not every story was a home run, there’s plenty to love in this look at the many forms of righteous (and not-so-righteous) payback.

There’s 19 stories in this collection. And I love that there’s an intro to each tale, giving readers a look at the author, and a taste of his/her bibliography. I wish all anthologies did that…only wish there was a page break symbol of some type between the intro and the story – in a few instances it was a bit jarring. [Note: I received an advance reader copy, so that may have already been tidied up.]

Typically a Greatest Hits of horror genre favorites, along with some cool new blood. But as this is a 20th anniversary reprint, most of the names here should ring bells for horror fans. So how do these writers deal with jealousy and revenge? Very well, thank you. Vampires, Sirens, ex-lovers, blowhards… There’s natural and supernatural here, and the payback is typically served ice cold.

Some of these stories don’t even feel like revenge, but to the characters within they are just that. You may not get the morality play payoff you’re looking for in the majority of these tales, but you’ll get a cool payoff nonetheless. What constitutes revenge?  Can you truly feel better after taking your pound of flesh?  What happens to those around you?  And not every payback is a blatant one; a few of the stories had a lingering sizzle that made the back of my neck tingle even after I’d put the book down. Nice work.

As with all anthologies, there’s a few stories that may not float your boat, or just flat out ain’t your thang. I get that, and I’ll admit not everything in this collection struck a chord with me. But while I can list off the ones I liked, and the ones I didn’t connect with? You may pick a different set of pluses and minuses. And either way, if you don’t like something, you can always turn the page. Because with Kisses, there’s more than straight-up horror; there’s revenge in all it’s various permutations.  Including a giggle or two.  No, I’m serious.

While I enjoyed the ebb and flow of various genres in this anthology, readers looking for something that’ll be all horror all the time may be disappointed.  But as with Datlow’s Year’s Best series, the patchwork of tones add up to an interesting read that doesn’t get overly heavy.  Though I recommend taking a few stories at a time and really savoring them, you can easily blow through this collection in one go, and not feel a sense of overkill.

My only problem? I wish I had a hard copy. I’m used to being able to jump from story to story, and go back again. It’s doable on a Kindle, but not quite the same. I’ll have to rectify that at my nearest bookstore. It’s good to see this anthology back in print. Let’s hope for more golden oldies.

Need more of a taste of what’s in-between the covers?  What stood out  for good or ill as I thumbed through? Here’s my top three. (Okay, the three that jumped out at me at this moment. I may pick a different three later. Dealer’s choice.)

A. R. Morlan, “… Warmer”
Mythology at its most fucked. And most rock and roll. A slithery way to start this collection.

Caitlìn R. Kiernan, “Anamorphosis”
WTF in story form. Brilliant imagery  but a climax that was a bit too vague to really sink in and stay with me.

David J. Schow, “A Punch in the Donut”
I’ll read just about anything Schow writes. (Probably not a grocery list. I’ve got my own.) This is a sneaky tale that’s one of my favorites in this anthology. More would be cheating. Read it.

 

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