By Ryan Sayles
(Zelmer Pulp; 2013)
Amazon eBook, 2013
Ryan Sayles, an editor at Zelmer Pulp, the independent imprint that publishes noir, horror, sci-fi and western stories, is full of surprises. In fact, his anthology, That Escalated Quickly! has one in almost every story.
Each of them will put a smile on your face. “Damn!” you’ll think. “I should have seen that one coming.”
But you never do. That’s what makes them surprises.
The book came out in December 2013, but I only learned of Ryan’s existence through Facebook last year. Afterward I started looking for his stuff in All Due Respect, Shotgun Honey, the Gutter Book/Zelmer antho Trouble in the Heartland, Dark Corners Pulp and the Zelmer noir collection, Maybe I Should Just Shoot You in the Face.
I really wanted to check out his novel, The Subtle Art of Brutality (Snubnose; 2012), but the damned thing is only out in paperback and I haven’t been able to locate a copy.
|Ryan Sayles, editor at Zelmer Pulp, novelist and short story writer|
Doesn’t matter – That Escalated Quickly will hold me until Brutality turns up someplace for sale.
The 22 stories in this collection run the gamut from “Formula and Meth,” a simple yarn about a lap-dancer in a gyp-joint who runs headlong into massive karma when her night is done, to “Douche,” a story about a guy with a dead body on his hands that turns out to be not quite as dead as he thought.
In “Squeezing,” the very first yarn in the book, a man is pinned down by gunfire on a college campus when a sniper attacks, randomly shooting passersby. Sayles captures the panicky atmosphere perfectly:
“I taste adrenaline like that sour mash from a bad handover. My heart pummeling like a death metal drummer. Everything tunes up. . . One minute you’re on a college campus struggling for a passing grade in Calculus, the next minute some dude pulls out a rifle and goes ape shit.”
The story unfolds in quick bites that are jump-cut together like a rock music video. He gives you just enough information – highlighting the confusion by serving it up in tiny chunks – to keep you as far off balance as the first-person narrator, trying to figure out what’s going on and why.
When you find out, your jaw clanks so far open that it bounces off your instep.
“Damn,” you think. “I should have seen that one coming.”
And then there’s “Oh, Amanda. How I Will Reclaim Thee,” a little tale about a man who has waited long to connect with the woman he adores, only to finally get the chance when her husband, Paul, has an adulterous fling and divorces her for a younger woman.
You know from the lover’s internal conversation with himself that his lustful feelings have gone unrequited for many years, and it is quickly made clear that his obsession with the woman is unhealthy:
“I figure the first thing we will do when we tie the knot is burn down the house she and Paul lived in. Obvious enough, it seems. It represents too much to me to leave it standing. For a long time I figured the same fate would befall the church that married them also, but now, thinking with a much clearer head and better perspective, I think if that same church married us it would even out. Makes sense. Of course I’d make sure every last trace of Paul was inside the inferno as it goes up. We can make our own home, our own memories at our own home. But I will not fill our house with evidence of him. Why start off on a leg that bad?”
But it isn’t until the last hundred words or so that realize how unhealthy his obsession is -- or why.
Once again you’ll think, “Damn. I should have seen that one coming.”
When you finish reading each of these tales, you will find yourself shaking your head gently and smiling like Bill Murray does in “Tootsie” when Dustin Hoffman pulls off his wig on nationwide TV and ad libs a finale to his stint as a female soap star.
Only you won’t say, “That’s one nutty hospital,” like Murray did. No way.
You’ll say, “Damn. I should have seen that one coming, too.”
My advice: when you see That Escalated Quickly coming, grab a copy for yourself. You'll find yourself surprised time and again.
The one thing that won’t surprise you is how good these stories are.