Douglas Warrick has heard all of your scary stories. He’s heard stories about demons, and creepy, sentient dolls, and urban legends, and the ravages of age and disease. He’s heard them all, but he’s got a few stories of his own he’d like to share. They’ll sound somewhat familiar, perhaps, but in truth they’re like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
Apex Publications Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Jason Sizemore has wisely pulled these stories together in Plow the Bones, the first in a series called “Apex Voices,” his company’s new line dedicated to introducing readers to writers with unique new voices. I’d say this first selection is as clear a mission statement as Sizemore could hope to make for this new line, and it has set the bar pretty high for whoever is lined up as “Apex Voices #2.”
I could write paragraphs, whole pages even, on each and every story here, and fail to feel that I’ve adequately explained what I enjoyed about this book. Chalk it up to the pure joy of discovery; prior to cracking open Plow the Bones, Warrick was an unknown quantity to me. I think that’s part of what made it such a fun read – the idea that grew with each page I turned, that here was a new writer showing me new things; a new writer with an entire career ahead of him, and I’m getting in on the ground floor instead of playing catch-up.
Join me, won’t you? Let’s all get together on this so that, years from now, we can sit back with our arms folded smugly and say, “Douglas Warrick? Yeah, I’ve been reading him for a while now.”
Because I feel like I need to get a little more specific, I’ll look at two stories (one of which you can read online, in its entirety, via a link at the end of this review) that really jumped out at me:
“Zen and the Art of Gordon Dratch’s Damnation”: How many stories have you read over the years that attempted to describe Hell and damnation? Now, how many of them actually made you think, “Whoa, if it’s anything like this, I need to get my soul right…”? This chilling story examines the experiences of Gordon Dratch in Hell, watching closely as its denizens peel him back, first physically and then emotionally, layer by layer, studying his suffering at a microscopic level. They have nothing but time and imagination on their hands, and when they’ve peeled him down to his essence they merely stitch him back together and start all over again. Dratch, an atheist who practiced a home brew of Zen and meditation before he died, eventually finds a little something in his version of faith to see him through, but not before a bout of suffering that’s one for the ages.
“Come to My Arms, My Beamish Boy”: We meet a man on the edge of slipping away entirely, a man whose mind is slowly being nibbled away, one memory at a time. It’s Alzheimer’s, of course…or is it parasites from another dimension? The cause, in the end, doesn’t matter. What matters is the quietly brutal way in which Warrick describes the loss of this man’s memories, forcing us to stand by helplessly as he watches them blow away like ash in the wind.
There’s an uncompromising vision at work here, one that encompasses the surreal, the silly and the sadistic with equal skill and ease. Reading this reminded me of when I read Clive Barker’s short stories for the first time – here is someone with a fresh new take on the horror genre and with incredible writing chops to boot.
Plow the Bones is a great start to the “Apex Voices” line, and should be a powerful boost to Douglas Warrick’s career. I can’t wait to see what both Apex and Warrick have planned next.
Hear Warrick read an excerpt from the book below: