DETRITUS is an anthology of short stories about collectors and collections. Because it’s a horror-themed anthology, I don’t think I’m ruining anything by telling you that these stories all focus on the obsessive, dark side of collecting, often exploring the ways that such obsessions can become destructive or terrifying.
I myself am a collector. I have a number of collections, though I primarily collect books. With nearly 6,000 books, not to mention thousands more comic books and magazines, my wife – and visitors to my home – would probably describe me as an obsessive collector. But I’m not a hoarder, and my house isn’t (yet) collapsing under the weight of all my books. I don’t just buy books and forget about them. I’ve electronically catalogued all of my books, and continue to spend time maintaining my collection, and the records of the collection. I am not happy when I’m on vacation if I can’t visit a bookstore (or two, or three….) I also care about books as physical objects, as artifacts. I’m interested in the physicality of books almost as much as I’m interested in what books have to say. I like to hold books, open them, examine them, smell them. I enjoy being surrounded by books, preferably my own, but I have spent a considerable chunk of my life in libraries. Books comfort me in a strange way that I find hard to articulate. And I am continually on the hunt for new books, despite the fact that I own several thousand books I have not yet read. Many of these, I must be honest with myself and with you, I will likely never read before I die. Even so, I continue to acquire new books. So that’s a very long way of saying that I have some understanding of the kinds of collectors and collections depicted in the fifteen horror-themed short stories in the collection DETRITUS. They each share the common theme of obsessive collectors and the sometimes unfortunate or even horrifying consequences of people getting too caught up in the act of collecting.
Mild plot spoilers for a few of the stories follow.
Not all the stories were extraordinarily memorable, but I will note a few of my favorites in the collection.
“Mrs. Grainger’s Animal Emporium” by Phil Hickes: A very naughty little boy (we all know the type) has a run-in with the eponymous Mrs. Grainger who owns the new taxidermy shop that has just come to town. Delightfully creepy, it reminds me of the classic EC comic storylines in “Tales from the Crypt” and “Vault of Horror.”
“Candy Lady” by Neil Davies: This begins as a story about a woman who collects creepy dolls in an old house infested by a strange kind of black mold and becomes a story about the end of the world, or at least human civilization. A very powerful tale, I’d actually have liked to see this one expanded. As is, it was almost too terse; I wanted to see it fleshed out even more.
“Heroes and Villains” by Michael Montoure: The unhappy tale of two comic book collectors who have the terrible fate of coming into possession of all the comic books they had ever dreamed of acquiring. A very dark piece about the lengths that the obsession with collecting and possession can take the collector.
The final story in the collection, “The Room Beneath the Stairs” by Kealan Patrick Burke, is also a fun one. Andy visits his Grandma after the death of her husband and discovers that Grandma is just a little creepier than he had imagined.
Collecting was a great theme for a collection of horror shorts. These stories make clear that the fetishization of the objects being collected, the collection as a whole, and the process of collecting can all take the collector down dark paths. A warning that should be heeded by all of us collectors, I suppose. I wish that the collection contained a few more stories I loved, but there are few real clunkers here, just some that are forgettable. I recommend the collection – despite the fact that, like most anthologies, not all the stories were winners – because it has an interesting theme and some stand-out stories. If you consider yourself a “collector” and enjoy horror, you’ll enjoy adding this anthology to your…collection.
Review copyright © 2013 J. Andrew Byers