Nick Antosca has been all over the place lately. He was the writer of the 2012 horror film The Cottage, starring David Arquette and Kristen Dalton. His name can be found among the writing credits of ABC’s Last Resort as well as MTV’s Teen Wolf. His first novel, Fires, came out in 2006, followed by the 2009 Shirley Jackson Award-winning novella Midnight Picnic. In 2012, Lazy Fascist Press released his satirical and controversial novella The Obese. Now, in June of 2013, Word Riot Inc is releasing The Girlfriend Game, Antosca’s first collection of short stories, a collection that shows the author writes with just as much intelligence as he does heart.
The twelve stories that comprise The Girlfriend Game are dark and often depressing tales that showcase the disturbing side of our world. They often present us with a familiar crossroads, but whereas we played it safe and went the expected direction, the protagonists explore the path less trodden, often with disastrous results. The twelve stories are each quick and fluid reads, and Antosca was kind enough to give us variety, making The Girlfriend Game feel like a true collection, as opposed to a bunch of disjointed chapters set in the same world. You’ll find yourself finishing up a tale of heartbreaking love loss in one story and then diving into the night the aliens first appeared with the next. The constant change of pace is welcome and very refreshing.
There are plenty of gems spread throughout the collection. It opens with “Rat Beast,” a story that plays off the insecurity and depression that accompanies becoming a teenager. But when the narrator can’t snap out of it, despite the efforts of his teachers, guidance counselors, and parents, he learns all about the “special school” where his older brother was sent when he had the same problems years earlier.
In the very next story, “The Girlfriend Game,” the beasts that rear their ugly heads are not monsters, but rather jealousy and ego. A bored couple decides to play “the game,” the one where they go to a bar and she flirts with a stranger, then the boyfriend walks up, pretending to not know her, and they end up going home together. A harmless game of role-playing with the added thrill of an outsider, a game that always brings them closer as a couple. But what happens when they play this game after he offends her at a party. And what happens when she responds to her boyfriend as if he really is just some guy who is trying to get her attention? And what happens when she leaves with the stranger and sends text messages to her boyfriend, taunting “Do I seem adventurous yet?” The tension grows from the very first paragraph, as does the feeling of helplessness, and you can’t help but think back to all those times you were too proud to apologize after putting your foot in your mouth.
All of the stories are good, but the real highlights of this collection are the two that come at the end. “Migrations” is the story of Desmond and his relationship with his institutionalized father. Desmond’s life is kind of a mess; after being rejected for law school, he takes to the bottle, which leads to stitches, a missing finger, his dog being put down, and his eviction. He learns that his father is in bad shape after trying to escape the hospital yet again. He takes a road trip with his cousin Brendan, hoping to make things right and get closer to his father. In the meantime, the weather is getting strange, people are disappearing, and the radio has been taken over by news reports of horrific events happening around the world. Desmond finds himself in an otherwise abandoned hospital with his father, his father’s imaginary adopted son Oswald, and the end of the world nigh.
Without pausing for a breath, Antosca then takes us straight into “The Thickness of Clown Blood.” A young woman named Jill is at her Uncle Horace’s funeral. A family meeting is set up for the next day to decide how Jill will split up her uncle’s inheritance, something she does not want to do as they are not good people. Not to mention, there really isn’t much of an inheritance to speak of. Stressed over what to do, she has a conversation with her Uncle Jason, who tells her a story that will change her life, a story about clown politics and clown revenge, a story that inspires her own actions toward her greedy cousins.
The Girlfriend Game is a great collection of stories that takes the reader on a trip into darkness and back again. It is sometimes horror, sometimes bizarro, and sometimes the bleak, horrific side of reality, relationships, and repercussions. Die-hard Nick Antosca fans will notice that all of the stories have been previously published, but at the same time to have them all collected and under new, eye-catching cover art is a pretty good deal. The Girlfriend Game is a really good introduction to Antosca’s work, as well as a good example of the talent lurking over at Word Riot Inc.
Book Review: The Girlfriend Game – Author Nick Antosca