I tell her she’ll get over it with time. I say, “It’s all right.”
I do not tell her, I understand.
I do not say, I think maybe we all are.
All the time.
I bought the original edition of Moon on the Water on a whim, back in the days when you could trust Leisure Press to put out quality work and not be utter douchebags to their authors. The book had a huge impact on me both as a reader and as a person. Of course, when I found out that Dark regions was rereleasing a book that I keep in my glove compartment in case of reading emergencies, I got a tad giddy.
Mort is primarily known for his shorts with the powerful, one-two punch. He’ll set you up, get your attention, misdirect you with a tap or two on the right to get you watching that side, then slam a left into that sweet little nerve cluster and send you straight to the floor. Stories like “If You Take My Hand, My Son”, “Pop is Real Smart” and “Party Time” are quick, sharp and will knock you to the floor with the last page or so. But don’t let the twist and shout endings fool you, their waters run deeper than that. All three deal with family and upbringing, with the long term effects of parental relationships on the lives and actions of their kids, in a way that is rife with as much gut level emotional impact as intellectual value.
Then you get the real meaty stories, the ones that crush you under the weight of heartbreak from a life that just doesn’t seem to play out the way we all hoped it would. The eponymous tale of a jazz musician lost to lust, love and a needle in a young woman’s arm is smooth, takes it’s time drawing you into its own private headspace as the once bright day to be crumbles with the dawn. “The Running Horse, The High, White Sound”, “FDR, a Love Story” and “Altenmoor, Where the Dogs Dance” work along similar lines. Don’t get me started on the tale of Mulbray, spread out across several different individual stories or the quiet desperation of “With Father, at the Zoo, Then Home.”
Then there are the more enigmatic works, the ones where good ol’ Uncle Mort decided to play around with your skull a bit. “Fear in Children”, for example, seems like a simple enough essay until you begin to delve into the underlying story of Mulbray (whose life is expanded upon in several other tales as well) which is much more than a mere example for elucidation’s sake. Or “Dani’s story”, which spends so much time dancing around the point, fearfully skirting the issue that the narrator so desperately wants to discuss but is terrified to mention. Or “Hansel, Gretel, the Witch: Notes to the Artist” which can seem nonsensical and without purpose at first glance but holds enough depth and intensity to drown in if you give it the time it needs.
If you happen to own the original, there are some new surprises as well. This one starts off with an essay, “DEFINING HORROR: Nine Musings on The Nature of Horror”, that oozes with personality and charm and a tongue sharper than Conan’s steel that shows why so many writers sit patiently at the foot of the Castle to learn a bit of the craft. “As Others See Us” started off kind of annoying, but the trademark smack across the face is gorgeous and puts a new look on an old classic tale. There is also a buffet style feeding of “14 Short Horror Stories” which are really 13 sharp, at least moderately chuckle inducing stories that set you up for a punch straight to the jaw that cripples with the last tale. The new stuff will definitely make a second purchase worthwhile.
The closest that I can come to in terms of a complaint would be more of a warning to strict horror fans: there isn’t much of that here. There are moments, but most of the horror is of the internal, existential blend instead of the creatures going bump in the night variety. Just keep in mind that Dani tells us we do not need ghosts to be haunted and you’ll be just fine.
Book Review: New Moon on the Water – Author Mort Castle