Benjamin Uminsky's Reviews > Cold to the Touch

Cold to the Touch by Simon Strantzas
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Jul 06, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: horror, fantastic-weird-lit, tartarus-press
Read from September 09 to 25, 2011 — I own a copy

This was a great introduction for me to Simon Strantzas' work. To this point I have heard excellent things and was ultimately compelled to track down this not-so-easy to find collection from Tartarus Press. So here is the thing, I gave this one 5 stars because as a collection, it is closer to 5 stars than to 4 stars. I can't really say that there was a single story in the collection that left me blown away, but story for story, this may be one of the strongest collections I have read in some time.

The problem with a lot of outstanding short story collections is you will get some real stand outs and potentially get a few duds (I have certainly noticed this in some of the 5 star collections I have read). In this case, there were no duds and a lot of really solid to excellent stories. In his afterword, Strantzas tells us that unlike his first collection BENEATH THE SURFACE, COLD TO THE TOUCH is missing that unifying theme for the collection. While that may be true, I felt that there were quite a few elements that could be found in many of the stories that left the collection feeling linked. The mood and atmosphere building for each of the stories was phenomenal (ranging from viscerally depressing to urbanly claustrophobic to overwhelmingly nostalgic) and the character development was also excellent (often painting social awkwardness and misanthropy into his characters). While I would agree with Strantzas (a la his afterword) that there is a good deal of Lieber's urban brushstrokes found throughout his stories, I think I also saw a good deal of Joel Lane in his treatment of his characters.

We see that decay and withering of the soul and also misanthropic overtones in his characters similar to Lane. However, as a credit to Strantzas, I felt his stories actually took his characters to interesting places and allow for the reader to be both captivated by character interaction and by the stories themselves. I'm really happy to have read this collection and certainly look forward to more of his writing.

While I did say that no single story from this collection distinguished itself more than any other story, a few do come to mind, particularly in how the horror was evoked through very strong grotesque imagery.

"A Seed on Barren ground"
The wish granting in this story is what gives us the grotesque imagery (almost like birthing a still born), and it was really strange mind you. Likewise, I could literally feel myself baking in the heat (akin to hanging out at the Bakersfield County Fair in the middle of the summer) along with the main character and I could also grasp the growing desperation as the main character waited for her number to be called. This one really drew upon all of your senses as a reader.

"Under the Overpass"
This one reminded me a lot of Braunbeck's incredibly melancholy life-is-full-of regret tale, "Smiling Faces Sometimes". The stoning of one of the kids was really painful to read through and evoked a similar level of grotesqueness as some of his other tales in this collection. You kind of new where it was going but the dread leading up to that critical moment in the story really gets you.

A great collection!! Highly recommended.
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