Saturday, June 13, 2015

Psychopaths, Puppets, and Presley: A Review of Eric Fritzius’s A Consternation of Monsters

(Mister Herman’s Publishing Company, 2015, misterherman.com). ISBN: 978-0692428511
By Joey Madia
In the novel Minor Confessions of an Angel Falling Upward, by Planner Forthright (which I was enlisted, against my better judgment, to edit some years ago), he writes “The most dangerous monsters … have no fangs or claws, drink no blood, live in Light, and fear no rosary or silver bullet symbols. … They wear lilac aprons and cook fresh okra in stain-proof, modern kitchens. Their names are recorded on a driver’s license and certificate of birth. They aren’t the swamp and coffin types. In certain tenuous moments they can be as sweetly consoling as the pie upon the sill.”
This same broad-based approach to what constitutes a “monster” is part of what makes this collection of ten short stories so appealing. In an age of zombies, vampires, and comic book supervillains taking over the pages of print and terabytes of the digital film age, it is refreshing to sit with a set of well-told tales and remember that Satan’s greatest achievement was making us think he doesn’t exist—although he does, everywhere, all the time, in the most unexpected forms.
Before I go into a little detail about my favorite stories (and, if it were not for space, I would talk favorably, rather than in passing, about them all), I have to mention that I’ve admired Eric Fritzius for many years. As a past president of West Virginia Writers, Inc. (for whom I’ve twice had the honor of teaching at their summer conference) and a continued driving force in their annual writing competition and efforts to promote the work of writers statewide, right along with his work in the theatre, Fritzius has been at the forefront of the arts in West Virginia. Add the fact that we both have selections in a recent collection published by Mountain State Press called Diner Stories: Off the Menu, and my desire to review his first collection of stories was considerable.
He certainly does not disappoint. Fritzius’s Vision and Voice are strong and the stories cover a wide range of tones and styles. I encourage the reader to NOT skip the Foreword (written by Rik Winston, host of UFO All Night), which is not only an entertaining read in and of itself, but sheds light on the choice of “Consternation” in the title. A choice that works perfectly well.
Many of the stories are West Virginia–centric in either their actual geography or in their overall tone and sensibilities. The companion pieces “The Hocco Makes the Echo” and “Puppet Legacy” are the best examples. Although not from WV, the past 8 years of living in a “holler” and traveling the state consistently made much of it familiar to me. “Old Country” has an interesting mix of the WV atmosphere with the Italian-American mafia, which is not as odd as it might initially sound. Thanks to the coal mining industry, many Italian immigrants found themselves in WV at the turn of the century, and the state has several excellent Italian Heritage festivals. The story offers a supernatural twist and plenty of suspense.
It is hard to do a book with a theme of the supernatural in WV without tackling the Mothman, as Fritzius does in “…to a Flame.” The legend of the Mothman, first seen by witnesses in Pt. Pleasant, WV in the late sixties, has been a rich subject area for supernatural researchers (I know several and have reviewed their books) and writers (I’ve used a variance on the Mothman in several of my works, and have a play based on Pt. Pleasant) and Fritzius contributes a well-researched and engaging story to the legacy.
Perhaps the most unique story in the collection is “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk,” where he tells the tale from the point of view of an alpha wolf in the desert. The descriptions of what the wolf sees, senses, and experiences are beautifully rendered. Fritzius’s technical skill is at full pitch.  The story pulls in a situation reminiscent of films like Two Days in the Valley and Seven Psychopaths, and manages a major mystery I am still trying to puzzle out a few weeks after reading.
Stories that are not WV-centric include one playing on myths of the Pacific northwest and another set of companion pieces, “The Wise Ones” and “Limited Edition,” which feature an intriguing old woman named Miss Zeddie at a cross-roads that connects a little taste of Stephen King’s Needful Things, a wonderful re-construction of Antiques Road Show, and a collection of well-drawn characters.
The subtlest monsters in Consternation appear in the story “The King’s Last Nacho,” which features an other-dimensional Elvis Presley watching Jerry “the King” Lawler (a wrestler who achieved fame through his “performance art” antics with Andy Kaufman) while a trench-coated agent (picture Eckhart from the first Burton Batman) from a highly bureaucratic Universe (that rich trope of writers from CS Lewis to Douglas Adams) bargains with the “other” king over stadium food. Like the Mothman story, this one shows abundant research on Fritzius’s part to give an authentic background of the intricate choreography and showmanship that is (quality) professional wrestling.
Collectively, Consternation operates to give us a nod and a wink about a much more sinister formulation of the Universe than mere angels and demons, which allows Fritzius the freedom to not lean on gore-n-scream horror tropes, but to play on familiar types and sub-genres in new, inventive, and entertaining ways.
For more information about the author and the process of writing A Consternation of Monsters, visit http://www.inspiration4writers.blogspot.com/2015/05/an-interview-with-editorauthor-eric.html and


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