From witty comedy to dark horror, Twisted Grin by Evan Starkman provides a set of modern fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories for fans of Douglas Adams, and Stephen King alike. The book, about 100 pages long, contains nine stories, which will leave the reader with a drastic range of emotions ranging from laughter to uneasiness (in the good, horror kind of way). This post will touch on a couple of the stories that stood out to me.
As one of the lighter stories in the book, Un-Supernatural touches on the subjects of marriage, dieting and exercise in a fun and comedic modern day vampire setting. The story revolves around an out of shape vampire who is coerced by his wife to see a serial killer fitness trainer in order to become a more healthy vampire. This premise sets up a hilarious story, complete with relatable dialogue and character driven scenes.
As a middle-aged married man, the banter between the overweight vampire protagonist, Ben, and his wife, Melania had me rolling in laughter at times. There were many notable quotes from Melania such as “I’m not blind Benjamin! Your work clothes have just as many Cheeto and cupcake stains on them as blood splottches!” and “Jesus antichrist” which did wonders for pulling me into the story. I also got quite a chuckle out of the fact that Ben drove a Honda and his wife drove a “brand-new Lexus.”
I was amazed at how well Evan was able to develop characters, despite it being a short story. And as such, this story ended up being one of my favorites from Twisted Grin, and did well being the book’s opener as it set the tone for the humor side of Evan’s writing.
“The Butcherer (Season 70)”
If there was one story out of the book I would consider Evan’s best from a comedic standpoint, I would give that title to The Butcherer (Season 70). This story is about a regular man, Will, who gets accidentally sent to Hell in place of a serial killer and is forced to participate in it’s hit reality TV show, The Butcherer. As the “star role” of this season of the Butcherer, Will is told he will go back to Earth and murder people for Hell’s entertainment. Of course, this complicates things since Will is not the serial killer the producers of The Butcherer thought they got!
The entire premise is hilarious, and Evan does a great job with setting, characters and interactions to pull in the reader and keep them laughing page after page. There were several times reading this story where I actually burst out laughing in the middle of the living room, and my wife and thirteen year old daughter asked me what was so funny. While I couldn’t tell them right there with my daughter in the room, I will share with any readers here that the 6th grade child in me is a sucker for descriptions such “mug-sized nipples,” “dick hole,” and scenes where a hairy man-dog ends up shaving his crotch.
The most memorable scene, which I won’t quote directly to avoid spoiling, involved a hot-tub and “dick bubbles” and will probably forever live in my memory as one of the most entertaining couple of paragraphs I’ve ever read.
While the conclusion to this story seemed to fizzle for me, I don’t think that ended up being to its detriment. It still ended satisfyingly, and I think it “fizzling” was me simply not wanting it to end.
Don’t feel like this review is by any means inclusive; I’ve only touched on a couple of the stories in the book. While, I found the comedy short stories more entertaining, don’t allow that to discredit some of the other more serious horror stories such as “Imps” which gave me Stephen King vibes and “Her Small Corner of the World” which would make a great contender for a Black Mirror episode. I’ll give this book 4.5 stars for the few stories in the book that just didn’t quite compete with the stronger ones, although they still kept me engaged and entertained as a reader.
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