Like Light for Flies – Lee Thomas (Lethe Press)

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Buy it direct from Lethe Press

I don’t know of a recent horror writer who gets more mileage
out of old tropes than Lee Thomas does. This was true in his Lammy
award-winning The German as well as The Dust of Wonderland, which
elevated the haunted house/possession thing into something rare and wonderously
creepy. I expected a lot from his short story collection, Like Light for
Flies
, and he exceeded those expectations with room to spare.

In her knowledgeable and interesting introduction, Sarah
Langan says that Thomas’ characters aren’t “refreshingly happy gay man.” And to
that, I’d add that their horrific issues have less to do with being gay than
being in the wrong place in the wrong time, which is equally as refreshing. In
fact, not all of his characters are gay.

Fittingly, the first story is about a straight woman named
Sylvia, her deceased sugar daddy, one of daddy’s lackeys, and a set of statues
that enables some very strange goings-on as Sylvia tries to get “Comfortable in
Her Skin.” This story, for some odd reason, was much like a Tarentino film to
me—over-the-top violence that actually justifies its own excesses. This is also
the only story in which greed is a primary motivator, making this the most
conventional entry here.

The other end of the spectrum, “Butcher’s Block,” sees a
middle-aged man at a local cruising area wondering why twinks are inviting
other, older man to some big party and leaving him out in the cold. Except
these aren’t your average twinks, and the old men aren’t likely to get much
older. “Testify” is an epistolary story about a Christian minister forced from
his position, “The Dodd Contrivance” sheer Lovecraftian splendor that examines
the world in a raindrop, and “Flicker” a fresh take on snuff films that would make
the aforementioned Tarentino cream his khakis.

For the poetic zombification of “Inside Where It’s Warm,”
the true poetry of “Nothing Forgiven” and the odd, homemade electroshock
therapy of “Fine in the Fire,” nothing exemplifies Thomas’ work like “The House
by the Park.” This malevolent little tale is an absolute gem, being about the
beginning of a relationship between two men paired with the after-effects of a
suicide down the block from where one of the men lives—namely, a black stain
that spreads from the lawn of the suicide’s house. As the men become more and
more involved, the stain spreads closer and closer. Simple horror trope or
anti-assimilationist metaphor? The story is so simple yet so complex.

And that is the case with nearly everything here. Nothing is
as it appears on the surface or should be taken for granted. Thomas constructs
his worlds brick by bloody brick mortared together with enough normalcy to make
his twists and turns seem that much odder. Like Light for Flies is a
collection of nightmares real enough to be dreamt tonight. Damn fine reading
from a most excellent writer.  

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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