Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee are both masters of the erotic grotesque. Lee tends to go for the gut, figuratively and literally. His plainspoken approaches to sexual and body horror result in novellas like “The Pig,” which delves – deep – into the world of snuff porn, junkies, and bestiality. (Its sequel, “The House,” pulls some punches … but not many.) If you’re into the grossest of gross-out splatterpunk, Lee’s your man.
Walking the same forest but ending up in a different clearing is Jack Ketchum. His infamous The Girl Next Door is hard to read and impossible to put down, the epitome of sex terror that unnerves rather than grosses out. His recent work with Lucky McKee, I’m Not Sam, starts sane and grows unbelievably uncomfortable, the sexuality at its center is less vividly awful than that in The Girl Next Door, but arguably more repulsive.
Sometimes these guys write stories together.
“Eyes Left” is not a new story; it first appeared in the Lee/Ketchum anthology Sleep Disorders, along with a clutch of other gruesome stories by the pair (plus a first draft each of new solo stories). There are a number of reasons it’s rising again, but chief among them is undoubtedly synergy. Very rarely have zombie stories been as popular as they are now, and “Eyes Left” is unlike any zombie story ever written. For comparison’s sake, Robert McCammon’s “Eat Me” comes close, but that story’s visceral horror manages a sweet elegy for its characters.
“Eyes Left” offers no such elegy. We enter a world in which the walking dead are simply another minority, and one of the chief questions among the perverted living is what sex might be like with one of them. Its simple assertion of the facts of this new world – as well as the fact that most living people simply don’t know much about the dead – lends “Eyes Left” quite a lot of verisimilitude. Our ostensible protagonists, Neil, John, and our unnamed narrator, trade in rumors and hearsay. And curiosity. Morbid curiosity.
“Eyes Left” is one of those stories that gets under your skin and stays there, not only promising bile-building horror but delivering on it. As with most of Ketchum and Lee’s stories, both separate and together, the narrative is so compulsively readable that you simply can’t stop reading. If you feel dirty afterward, well, that’s part of the point.
One of the other reasons for “Eyes Left”’s new life is the unusual nature of the new collection of which it will be a part. Van Gogh’s Ear: Best World Poetry, Prose & Art is an annual collection of extreme writing and art. Similar to the famous/infamous Gauntlet Magazine (whose last issue was sadly published in 2002), Van Gogh’s Ear challenges the limits of free expression. From their website:
Experimental work is warmly embraced. Taboos extremely encouraged. The more daring, the better. “INTENSITY” is the key.
Their approach to the anthology embraces a once-radical publishing construct: every piece of work selected will appear on their website, for free, first. The model seems to work. The print anthology for this, the eighth edition of Van Gogh’s Ear, appears in the fall, and will also feature interviews with Lee, horror legend Ramsay Campbell, and work from new talent like fantasy/horror tattoo artist David Bollt. It’s a worthwhile pursuit, this new way of publishing, both in terms of idealism and the work itself. Fascinating, challenging work like “Eyes Left” deserves as wide an audience as possible. By previewing the work online and offering an all-new print showcase for it, Van Gogh’s Ear is shining a light into the darkness of underground horror, and demanding we look.
“Eyes Left” is currently available to read for free on The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology website.
Kevin Quigley is an author whose website, CharnelHouseSK.com, is one of the leading online sources for Stephen King news, reviews, and information. He has written several books on Stephen King for Cemetery Dance Publications, including Chart of Darkness, Blood In Your Ears, and Stephen King Limited, and co-wrote the upcoming Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book. His two short-work collections, This Terrestrial Hell and Surf’s Up, are also available from Cemetery Dance, and his first novel, I’m On Fire, is forthcoming.