This isn’t actually a new release, but a re-release. The original came out in 2009, this new version comes with added content. As with most collections, it is a bit of an uneven affair. At it’s worst, one or two of the stories read like extracts from other works, as if the ideas are not yet fully formed. At it’s best, Zelazny sucks you in to the most uncomfortable, uncompromising situations you can imagine.
One of the stand-out stories is the one which lends its name to the collection, about a man who goes to inform a competition winner of his good fortune only to find a little boy eating the leg of a dead dog, and the man of the house keeping a rotting corpse for company in the living room. What the fuck? I hear you say. Don’t worry, it gets weirder. It is often said that when Zelazny writes, he bares his soul. You get that impression several times in the course of this collection, not least in Mourning Road, a compassionate little yarn about a driver who seeks out roadkill as a way to pacify his guilt and inner demons. Another stand-out is ‘Harold Asher and His Vomitting Dogs,’ a story which might make you giggle, then ask yourself what the heck is so wrong with your psyche that you find something so surreal and fundamentally disturbing funny. Even now, when I think about that story I don’t know if it was supposed to be funny or if I’m just a bit fucked in the head. If that’s the cease, then at least I can console myself with the fact that I’m not as fucked in the head as the man who wrote it. Probably my favourite story here is ‘Opportunity Knocks,’ about a man who takes over a family enterprise following a tragedy. But of course, it doesn’t go to plan. There is an edgy, underlying creepiness detectable between the lines long before the shocking truth comes to light by way of supernatural intervention.
If you can sense a loose theme emerging, you’d be right. Dogs. This ties in with the title, which I thought a strange choice at first. But thinking about it, what happens when the leash gives way? People get hurt, that’s what. Leashes are for keeping dangerous dogs under control. If they ‘give way,’ you’re in trouble. That’s exactly what happens in many of the stories here. The leash gives way, big time. You could argue this is a metaphor not just of the subject matter, but also for Zelazny’s approach to storytelling. It can be playful and goofy, but also unpredictable and dangerous. It has teeth and claws. In time, the wounds may heal but they will leave scars you will carry to your grave. Though on the surface of things the plots may sometimes appear a little thin, and more than once you’ll find yourself wondering where it’s all leading, the stories presented here have a way of burrowing under your skin, where they will crawl and fester.
The one constant throughout these 24 tales is Zelazny’s razor sharp writing style, often combined with a sinister undertone and some sophisticated wordplay. Most of the subject matter is best described as noir or crime fiction, elsewhere he veers off into subtle suspense, dark humour and even outright horror. What this collection does to great effect is showcase Zelazny’s considerable talent. One of his main strengths is his use of dialogue, which often puts you right at the heart of a scene and keeps you there. To summarize, this guy goes places few others are brave enough to go, and he takes you along for the ride. Weird fiction at its best.
Check out my interview with Trent Zelazny in the Morpheus Tales supplement. Available here, FREE: