"How to Make Monsters"
by Gary McMahon
Format: Paperback, 172 pages
Publisher: Morrigan Books
I discovered Gary McMahon through “Constance Craving”, one of his short stories, published in the horror collection “Voices”. Later I discovered that Gary McMahon is a prolific writer of horror short fiction and that he was nominated for the British Fantasy Awards. So, I was very pleased when I found one of his collections of short stories, “How to Make Monsters”. The anthology gathers fourteen of his stories, some of them already published and the others seeing the print for the first time in “How to Make Monsters”.
“Chill” – Joel discovers that the world around him seems to slow down to an almost freezing point. I will be honest and say that I personally wouldn’t have started the collection with this story. It is not a bad story, with a familiar background for every reader, our modern society. However, I found the story not to be as powerful as the other ones in the collection and the point of it can be easily missed.
“Through the Cracks” – Emma visits her sister, but while she travels there she receives a phone call from her former boyfriend, with whom she lost contact for the last three years. Her reencounter with him might change her destiny forever. This is one of my favorite stories from this collection, focused on the connections between people, although these might be strange sometimes, and on the power of obsession. The end, although expected, is well executed and made me fully satisfied with the story.
“The Unseen” – A writer whose destiny changed for the worst makes a strange discovery. Another story focused on the present society, with the changes it imprints in humans and humanity. It is a disturbing story which left me on thoughts long after finishing the book.
“Pumpkin Night” – Baxter is spending for the first time the Halloween without his wife. But his loneliness might not last long. Another favorite of mine, if not my favorite from the entire collection. I was almost feeling the Halloween atmosphere and Gary McMahon makes the pumpkins coming to life. The twist of the story took me by surprise and it was followed by an end that was more than satisfactory for me.
“Owed” – Lana, a lone mother with a disordered child, must come with a solution to pay her debts. The story offers many terrifying moments in a tangle of horrors offered by humans and monsters in an equally measure. Or maybe the boundary between the two of them is non-existent.
“Why Ghosts Wail: A Brief Memoir” – A man comes back from the dead after over a year since his accident and his ghost goes to visit the family’s house. I believe that everyone has asked himself what the future might reserve for them and for their loved ones. This story doesn’t offer any answer in this sense, but it is a nice interpretation of the questions we ask ourselves about our future and life.
“Accidental Damage” – Chester suffered an accident and after he recovered it seemed that his friends and lover left him. But maybe Chester is a changed man after his accident. The story raises questions about how a small detail can change one man’s life. Gary McMahon adds a supernatural element to his story, one that will amplify the terrific image of the story.
“Nowhere People” – Karl, a taxi driver, makes a course that will show him a different world. This is another story that plays heavily with realities of our society and with horrors that kick in the character’s life and the reader’s mind from the start of the story until its end.
“Family Fishing” – The story’s character recollects the last visit he made at to his grandfather. The story deals with the family traditions, traditions that pass over long lines of generations but are not necessarily good.
“Something in the Way” – Martin Pierce comes to a difficult point in his life, but he also discovers and investigates a new pattern in his existence. I really liked how Gary McMahon executed this story, giving me a claustrophobic feeling and a hangover sensation, like those lived by the protagonist of the story. The end is not exactly as I have seen it, but it is a good one and made me even more sympathetic to the character situation.
“A Stillness in the Air” – Grant was mistaken for a serial killer. This story brought him wealth, but also brought him something new in his life. What I really liked at this story is that the author brought forth an outcome that I never seen before. I found the turn of the story original and bringing the case of mistaken identity a step further into the imagination.
“Once a Month, Every Month” – Max Jessop has to clear all the family bills and debts at the first of each month. Well, I’ll admit that this story was the one least on my liking from the entire collection. It seemed to me a bit too hasted toward its outcome. Also the reasons behind some of the characters’ behavior and situation are little explained and seem a bit unreasonable.
“Save Us All” – A man finds two religious adepts at his door who he turns around only to discover later that they are in his entire neighborhood. Although the character of this story fears the possible outcome that unfolds before him, he finds out that he fears more that outcome isn’t coming true. A story that deals with the habits we develop through life and with the loneliness we might face someday.
“A Bit of the Dark” – Frank Link is a successful writer and has a wonderful family. Now, he comes one more time to the orphanage where he spent three nightmare years and which is about to be demolished. This is the longest story of the collection and one of the strongest. It is told from the point of view of three characters, so I could see the story develop from three perspectives. The pace becomes faster and faster and catches quickly the reader into its rhythm. The story also offers some disturbing images and an unnerving atmosphere.
“How to Make Monsters” is a collection of stories I really enjoyed, in each story Gary McMahon creating monsters through his writing, not all definitely outlined, but present all the time and involving many supernatural and paranormal aspects. But what makes his stories even more terrifying is the fact that each story is played in a familiar setting and the characters of each one of them can easily be the person next to you, or even worse, the reader himself. I discovered in “How to Make Monsters” a new powerful and scary voice of horror stories and I am hoping that in the future I will read more and longer fiction written by Gary McMahon.