1-29 - Book Review: WORMWOODPoppy Z. Brite
Dell
1994

In an old car rocking down a North Carolina highway with the radio on so loud you can’t hear the music… Behind a dusty Georgia carny show… In a mausoleum in Baton Rouge, or in an alley in Calcutta… Here wanderers come to rest, the lost and lonely press their bodies up against each other, the heat rises, flesh yields, bones are barred, blood spills. This is the landscape of today’s most brilliant young horror writer, Poppy Z. Brite. Now, in a collection that sings like cutting edge rock n’ roll and shows the deft touch of a master storyteller, Poppy Z. Brite weaves her unique spell of the erotic, the frightening, and the forbidden…

Early on, Poppy Z. Brite’s style of modern Southern Gothic horror rivaled that of fellow New Orleans dweller Anne Rice, but never seemed to find as big a reader base. Which is a shame, as during Brite’s horror period presented stories that didn’t shock you so much as it slithered over your skin and burrowed deep into your brain like a parasite that slowy made you go insane. Yeah, it was that kind of horror fiction.

This collection of short stories began life in the UK under the title Swamp Foetus. Although it’s the third publication for the author, it’s worth noting that the stories are early works, written between 1986 and 1992. With them, you can see the progression of the writing style that would eventually typify the full-length novels.

Of note, there are a couple of stories here–“Angels” and “How to Get Ahead in New York”, the later of which is quite the black comedy pun–that feature the appearance of Steve and Ghost, characters that are familiar to those who have read Lost Souls and Drawing Blood, and since I read Lost Souls before rescuing Wormwood from the Goodwill I spotted this in, it was a bit of a squee on my part. Yeah, I admit it. This is also the first place I read the now-classic zombie story “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” (if one is to judge “classic” standing by how many times it’s been included in other anthologies).

Overall, Wormwood (as is the version I got, in mass-market paperback) was a very engrossing collection of early short dark fantasy fiction by Poppy Z. Brite. It shows the flashes of brilliance the author would unleash on future novels; if you happen to come across this, pick it up and curl up for a few hours of creeping horror goodness.

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