On some level, I feel I’ve found a kindred spirit in J. Daniel Stone. I’d previously only read his (awesome) story in I Can Taste the Blood, which offered hints of Barker without resorting to pastiche, and now I’m finally getting around to reading more of his work. Thankfully, Stone is no one-hit wonder.
At the risk of making this seem like the All About Me Show, allow me to begin this review by touching on why I relate to Stone’s approach to dark fiction before I dive in and speak a little more specifically about his work. We clearly have at least a few of the same literary influences (especially the aforementioned Barker, as well as Poppy Z. Brite), and we both cannot resist incorporating the music we love into the fiction we give birth to. However, we use these influences in such distinct and different ways that the similarities are only enough to make a personal connection (which is cool in my book).
Oh, and get this—Stone has a character named Dorian Wilde. I have a character named Dorian Wylde. Methinks we are officially two sides of the same subversive coin. Either that or we share a very unhealthy brain.
Stone’s short stories reek of the streets of New York (though not always) as well as what goes on beneath those streets and in the cracks between, and they frequently (again, not always) delve into queer themes and/or use queer characters. And these characters, whether they are gay, straight, or somewhere in the void, are more or less all outsiders. The sorts of people who are attracted to the underground not because they are “cool” or attempting to be, but because they have no choice but to be there. They simply don’t belong anywhere else. The true misfits and freaks of the universe. Many of the stories in this collection reuse characters from his novels Blood Kiss and The Absence of Light and are intended to be companion stories to those books. I can’t help but feel that, though all of these particular stories were well written and interesting, they would have resonated with me a bit more had I been familiar with the novels. That said, one of my favorite stories in the book fell into the appendage story category (“The Tunnel Record”). Really awesome stuff that is essentially Stone’s personal stamp on C.H.U.D.s. I mean, really, how much more New York can you get than that?
The title story is definitely one of the standouts, a somewhat disgusting tale about a disturbed young man with a Frankenstein complex whose idea to make his own undead patchwork monster does not go quite as planned. My favorite, however, would probably be the closing story, “Ecdysis,” which involves a transformation that goes far beyond the limits of mere gender. But I feel the favorites might become fluid over time. This is the type of collection that if you like one story, chances are you’ll dig the rest. They maintain a fairly consistent tone, with a lyrical command of language that rarely wavers. Often sad, frequently strange, always so, so dark.