Christopher Golden's childhood fascination with monsters has grown into this 19-story anthology from St. Martin's Press. He believes that the interest in and horror of monsters is really a method of defining ourselves in regard to others. Using this as his starting point, The Monster's Corner offers us tales of misunderstood monsters by giving us their motives, thoughts, and feelings.
Golden established four basic rules for the anthology. First these must be misunderstood monsters not evil creatures, no random serial killer no matter how abuse he survived. Second he accepted no vampires or zombies feeling that these monsters are too popular and too easy for authors to work with. Third he didn't want a lot of human monsters but he admits in the introduction that a few appear. Actually more than a few appear because the most common creature in this collection is the human turned into something else by magic, events, chemicals, or even desire. Finally he wanted new stories though the introduction claims one appears in a small press book that barely sold; which story that is, is unstated anywhere in the anthology.
The authors who contributed to The Monster's Corner range from newly published to popular selling to award wining; these categories overlapped a few times as well. Given the pedigree the stories should all reach out and shake the reader but the quality varied from truly creepy and unique to confusing.
A good horror story can begin in a confusing fashion, even end in a confusion fashion, as long as the reader feels connected to the narrator or intrigued enough by events to pause and sort through the fuzziness. The sense that there is no sense in a horror story can help the reader understand the makes the situation or the characters terrifying. This is certainly the case in Gary A. Braunbeck's "And You Still Wonder Why Our First Impulse is to Kill You," Michael Marshall Smith's "The Other One," and Dana Stabenow's "Siren Song;" in each of these time is flexible and viewpoint skewed leaving everyone unsettled. However Lauren Groff's "Rue" while almost poetically written is confused that by the end we have to ask what, who, or if there was a monster at all.
Many of the monsters in The Monster's Corner are familiar especially if you're a fan of their kind in stories, movies, or TV shows. The trick for this anthology is to offer us something new, a view we haven't seen before. Several of the stories do this well. David Liss's ghoul girl from "The Awkward Age" and David Moody's radiation fed creature in "Big Man" get us directly inside the heads of the things we should be afraid of. Tom Piccirilli's fairies are neither creepy nor sympathic in "The Cruel Thief of Rosy Infants" but the story goes beyond the changeling's handler's mind to assault us the evils of child abuse and society's part in it.
There are very human monsters that got into Golden's collection regardless of his rules. Nate Kenyon's artist in "Breeding Demons" is soul shaking because we feel his need to create even though it is destructive. The witch pushed too far barely registers as a monster when we hear her side from Heather Graham in "Wicked Be." We almost feel a connection to the new teacher in town who spends too much time in "The Lake" by Tananarive Due but her motivations aren't the purest to begin with. "Saint John" really appears to be more a hero in a dark apocalyptic world than a monster plus he is an abuse survivor, that fact paramount to the plot; how did this wonderful story by Jonathan Maberry qualify for this anthology at all?
Even the most horrifying creatures can be down right funny when we get into their heads and see their pompous beliefs. "Jesus and Satan Go Jogging in the Desert" by Simon R. Green is amusing though it rehashes a lot of Biblical text. John McIlvenn presents a very different Satan "Succumb," one devil we cheer louder for with each passionate thrust from a wanton preacher. The famous creature from New Jersey is revealed to be completely deluded egomaniac in Sharyn McCrumb's "Rattler and the Mothman." One of the strongest stories in this book "Specimen 313" from Jeff Strand will make you laugh and laugh while your stomach turns cold.
Finally we have our classic or widespread monsters whose heads we peek into with varying results. We feel almost sad for Medusa's loneliness-driven insanity in Sarah Pinborough's "The Screaming Room." Any lover second-chances must respect the Indian demon's need for freedom in "Rakshasi" by Kelley Armstrong. While Chelsea Cain creates empathy for the creature under our child's bed right from the first sentence, that ends when we see the lengths to which both girl and monster go to prove their friendship in "Less of a Girl." Sadly the use of Nazis in "Torn Stitches, Shattered Glass" felt cliché as a way to help us understand Frankenstein's Monster in Kevin J. Anderson's story; it really feels like this has been done before.
Not every tale in The Monster's Corner offers us both personal and cultural insight in a balanced fashion. Some monsters are more accessible than others because of the writing style or the character development. This isn't a "best of" anthology however and that only five fell a bit short, that is a good rate of quality in any genre's collection. Whether you sympathize with monsters like Christopher Golden does or not, these 19 glimpses into their minds and hearts will make you laugh, make you think, and make you feel a bit dirty at times. That is what makes any horror anthology worth reading.