Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Review of Havoc After Dark: Tales of Terror

Havoc After Dark: Tales of Terror
Robert Fleming
Dafina Books
Kensington Publishing Corp
New York, NY 10022
ISBN 0-7582-0575-9
price US14.00 CAN$20.
241 pages

Rating: Excellent

With the exception of Stephen King and Jewish writers such as Kafka, most white horror writers don’t really delve into the political and socio-cultural importance of history and race. As in most horror tales, the victims in these fourteen stories are victims of time and place. But Robert Fleming, an African-American writer of horror and suspense and a former journalist uses geography to show the power of history, secrets and chained truth in the lives. He brings political insights about the African diaspora to his taut well-written book of short terror tales.

From Pere Bas in “Life After Bas” to Aunt Tina’s little daughter in “Wisdom of Serpents” to Herr Dorr and his Nazi butchers in Arbeit Macht Frei whether temporarily or throughout the ages, the oppressors in these stories are parasitic opportunists who seek powerless weak or ignorant targets to torment. The torment is often psychological, sexual, or physical. And the effect of the encounter with these tortures endures.

These villains have their helpers of course. Whether ignorant of the villain or complicit in his actions, those in society often help to deepen the horror and helplessness of the victim suddenly caught up in the havoc of horrifying circumstances. And often would-be helpers are helpless. For instance, in “Life After Bas” and “The Tenderness of Monsieur Blanc,” the western mind is so unable to acknowledge the supernatural that psychologists only help to further entomb the victim, Marlene Baye. They speak of psychoses when all about them are ancestral evil and spiritual mysteries. They suggest materialistic medicine when the needed physician is a shaman, witch-doctor, or priest who understands the demonic and who knows the truth that will set the captive free.

These victims of horror are often brought towards their destiny by paternal or ancestral actions they had nothing to do with, by disregarding a small bit of advice or their own common sense, by the pull of human lust or a small seemingly insignificant action. Grace and mercy are rarely found in these stories. Rather, justice, punishment, and evil are relentless.

Appropriately enough, most of the stories contain an element of eroticism since it is often lust –on the part of both victim and victimizer– that brings about the oppression. And in these sexual couplings, not only is the war between the sexes explored but racial and cultural ramifications are also examined. Although mercy is rarely found in these stories, justice has its kinder, gentler moments. “The Ultimate Bad Luck”, which is Fleming’s take on the old “dominant white female in need of black male sexuality” cliche is funny and has a hopeful twist about the importance of small kindnesses.

Generally, a good book is written for all readers. But there’s something about reading a book written by someone from one’s own culture. As all readers can read and enjoy Joy Luck Club or Bastard out of Carolina without being Chinese or lesbian, so the white reader can enjoy Havoc After Dark without being African-American. I felt as if I had come home when I read this book because the characters are so down-home and often speak a cultural language I understand. But those who understand the language of the supernatural and the language of horror will like it also.

Highly recommended.
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