on 15 July 2011
MENTAL SHRILLNESS is a very brief, very concise collection of short tales. Each one representing a particular human frailty, in a very twisted way. The tales really do read as vignettes of the damned. Tales quickly spat out from the tormented souls, and sent echoing down the cold marble walls, of Todd's 'Mental Shrillness Ward'. The tales are short and to the point, with zero fat. Any reader who still appreciated the short form will understand the joy of a short story that understands exactly what it is, and Todd has managed to bottle that fire and condense it, squeezing a hell of a lot of horror into very little space. One tale apart, these little gems are extremely short, clocking in at two to three pages sometimes. This is both a blessing and a curse.
See, there are some very weighty themes here. Love, sexual desire, broken hearts, betrayal, and repression of memories, and all are explored from a very unique standpoint. I'm a long time horror reader, and I found myself very surprised and disturbed by some of the imagery and ideas Todd expresses through his cavalcade of lunatic confessions. The downside of this, for me, was that I found his contrasts and insights so fascinating, I was rarely ready to walk away from them when the tale ended. the author is really onto something here.
Two tales in particular are still running around in my head as I write this. The second tale, PAINS IN THE GLASS is very disturbing, and reads quite unlike anything Ive come across. A study of pain, physical and emotional, and loaded with grisly and tragic imagery. And the fourth tale, FALLING IN BOBBIT is, or should be, something of a classic, taking devotion and sexual hunger to their utmost extremes. Its disgusted, disturbed and strangely eager with itself, much like the insane woman into who's diary we are privy too as we read. Great stuff. And the other tales are great too. DEATH WARMED OVER is a blackly comic look at sexual gratification gone all the way south, DUELLING EYES is a rapid fire glimpse at what appears to be the final moments of a doctors long battle with mental illness, and MEMORIAL DAY DESCENT, the opening tale, gives us a grim look at post traumatic stress, and the very real ghosts of our pasts. And the final, and longest tale, THE ILLUSION, proves that Russell has the chops to stretch his grim visions into more sizable lengths, as he spins a story of dark magic, wishful thinking, and the nature of illusion. Its a fitting finale, as the entire collection often feels like a carnival ride through half seen mirages.
At the same time, the length of the stories can also be seen as a strength. For so many insights and horrors to find there way into such a short work is pretty amazing, and for any budding horror writers out there, it should be very inspiring also. And that the author seems to have the self control to leave his children alone is commendable, when so many 'short stories' are long winded and often feel like a novel in themselves. These tales make for a great quick read, and unlike many longer stories, they tend to stick with you, as the readers input is vital in all these stories. Russell understands that you have a working brain, and expects you to use it. I can only agree with that sentiment. The reader implicit in the tales overall meaning, and thats just as it should be for this type of work.
MENTAL SHRILLNESS is a quick dive into some very dark waters, and is one exploration worth taking. Short on length and long on substance, its a perfect book for those looking to be horrified in rapid fashion. I want more of what Todd Russell has to offer. Check this one out.