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About The Skeleton Melodies
In 2014, Hippocampus Press published Clint Smith’s first short story collection, Ghouljaw and Other Stories. Now, Smith has assembled his second story collection, and it features all the virtues of his first book while adding new touches that will broaden his readership.
The Skeleton Melodies features such stories as “Lisa’s Pieces,” a grisly tale of cruelty and murder; “Fiending Apophenia,” in which a schoolteacher reflects poignantly on his past derelictions; “The Fall of Tomlinson Hall,” wherein Smith draws upon his own expertise in the culinary arts to fashion a story of cannibalistic terror; and “The Rive,” a highly timely post-apocalyptic account of the horrors that inequities in health care can foster.
Other stories treat of domestic strife leading to supernatural or psychological horror, such as “Animalhouse” or “The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein.” The volume culminates in the richly textured novella “Haunt Me Still,” one of the most subtle and powerful ghost stories in recent years.
Praise For The Skeleton Melodies
“Smith is a real find, an elegant stylist with an imagination that’s unsettling, paranoid, gruesomely funny at times, and startlingly original. He’s written one of the scariest sex scenes I’ve ever read, but he can even make vacuuming your own house seem scary.”
-T.E.D. Klein, author of Providence after Dark and Other Writings
“In his compelling sophomore collection, Clint Smith dives deep into his characters’ psyches, unearthing the histories, the mysteries driving them toward horrors visceral and cosmic. His stories make reference to the work of John Cheever, of George Orwell, and his fiction displays the same attention to style, to grace and elegance of expression, which distinguishes the writing of those writers. In Smith’s work, carefully rendered portraits of daily existence open into the weird and terrifying. There are images of body horror in these pages that would not be out of place in the early films of David Cronenberg, and there are evocations of vistas immense as any in the work of Machen and Klein. With these stories, Smith solidifies and extends the gains made in his first collection, and leaves us eager for another.”
-John Langan, author of Sefira and Other Betrayals
“Smith’s affect is a pendulum that swings from the classical and the mannered into his own vision of contemporary darkness; a darkness that conceals all sorts of hazards. The Skeleton Melodies is a splendid collection brimming with viscerally elegant horrors.”
-Laird Barron, author of Worse Angels
Pitting characters of various walks of life against terrors and dilemmas, there be ballads, transitions, through a modern weird horror telling, ancient and modern aspects fused with a few stories like a Flannery O’Connor and John Cheever tragedy with a horror mutation.
These tales will bring you to certain places with haunting remnants remaining and with this author the weird modern metamorphosis continues on.
These are reviews for the tales that worked for me:
Monstrosities, body horror, high school friends, betrayals, screenshots of the movies Flatliners and Frankenstein reviving in my mind.
There is a displaying of ones own style of writing, a voice, a prose style describing things with keen lyrical symmetry.
A little horror of a weird tale of ancient and modern aspects fused with lyrical precision of a surgeon.
There is for an author plenty words to fill and stray from the meat of the tale and this one does not that, the right balance to drive the reader forward and fine details evoking the past and present, and monstrous actions contained within.
“Colin looked practically the same, his features sustained. Older, more mature, sure—his skin in sequence with his age. He’d taken to slicking back his black hair. And while Colin (so far as Lew knew) had never played a sport in his life, he maintained the sinewy build of a swimmer or rower—the aesthete of the elite.”
“A gray, mottled punch of light emerges in pitch, lending some sense of dimension, direction. The perturbating glow swells as decades shift, deteriorate and coalesce into mere seconds . . .”
“Colin’s true nature. Even the phrase had never occurred to Lew back then. It had been simpler, more innocent than that. Colin had been his friend. His only friend.
It was a mundane, mid-teen scenario. Still, it served as the fulcrum of their divergent, brotherly bifurcation. There had been five of them: Lew (clumsy), Colin (clever), Lisa (sophisticated), Monica (the infidel), and Heather (the mouse). They’d been friends since elementary school, insulating one another as they progressed through the unforgiving social strata of middle school and high school—the four of them a pentagram of pubescent protection. Though Colin and Lisa were the only two who’d developed a romantic relationship.”
The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein
Pitting family against terrors, with loss, dream interpretation and beliefs in the unraveling story along with certain truths to be unveiled.
Whilst the news on the TV in the hotel room is scaring her kids the main character mentions one story by Flannery O’Connor, one of my favourites, where avoiding is not an option and a similitude struck on the thought of avoiding killers.
Reads like a Flannery O’Connor and John Cheever tragedy with a horror mutation.
“Gwen struggled from slumber—her eyelids fluttering, finally parting to take in the early morning murk, the bleed edging the curtains and touching the sand-colored walls. A hotel room, she told herself. Tennessee, she refined as she bobbed to the surface of lucidity.
Still not summoning the urge to budge, she took visual inventory: Abbi, her small, cotton-clad form breathing gently, her dark hair spilled on the pillow; and over on the pull-out bed, the larger, haphazard sprawl of her twelve-year-old son, the boy’s snore nearly blending with the phlegmy din of the room’s A/C unit. That snore had a signature, yet another inherited trait from his father that delicately irritated Gwen.”
“Coping with the kids, even in this single-mom gig, was easier than the days of frigid tension between her and Sean. Sure: the accountability was exhausting, but she’d gotten used to the rhythms of responsibility associated with unilateral parenting over the past five years.”
“It was just out of the inelegant and ill-shaped accretion that was their relationship and eventual marriage: they’d successfully collaborated on two children, while also collaborating on whittling down their alliance to one sharp point: Sean had simply grown weary of . . . well, everything: being a husband, being a mortgage-toiler, being a father. It was the birth of Abbi, Gwen was certain, that had put the finishing touches on it all.”
“Gwen knew from personal experience: in times of crisis, people needed self-soothing testaments—remnants, in her mother’s case, of those unflinching, ecclesiastical fundamentals from childhood.”
“Though she did not physically react, there was part of Gwen that bristled: yes, at the innocence of the words themselves, but also at the affectation of magical thinking. She was not necessarily surprised by this, yet found herself needing something else—something more realistically sound than self-centered promises of the afterlife. Despite this, she still sought to soothe her mother.
And it was during moments like this, intimate moments where their wavelengths might have a chance to overlap—as mothers, as daughters, as women—that she felt most susceptible to her mother’s credulousness, as though her mother’s beliefs were working on her, a sort of fundamental infection. But she knew all too well that, when it came to her stubborn mother, there would be no reciprocity, no hope for philosophical cross-pollination.”
Courtney and his dog Gamble having a Monday drunk day off work, pretending to be ill, but then this ordinary day certainly does induce illness.
He sets out to cover terrain of old from his younger days interloping on a house once called by kids of the neighborhood “Corpse Cottage.”
Evoking the scene with careful crafting delivering this man and dog through some nightmarish terrain along with betrayal and regret, and losing ones humanness with “No matter what, there was no returning from tonight” with this suspenseful horror tale.
Fingers Laced, as Though in Prayer
There be a terrible day ahead for Ms. Welch, bus driver, Susy an eighth grader, and younger seventh and sixth graders on the school bus and at Marlin Meadows Elementary School.
“Susy’s spot on the bus gave her an opportunity to observe the day-to-day drama unfold, which had, for the most part, ceased to interest her these past few years. She’d be in high school this time next year, after all, and this would be her last year on this particular passage with this particular bus driver.”
A new inhabitant of Chicago an attendee of a school in a new apartment has no friends and keeps to himself but finds encounter with a neighbour, a woman he finds himself attracted to and caught in certain uncomfortable situations and miscommunications.
This story with an ordinary passive life can turn in a second with chaotic developments and with a simultaneous connectedness to others “united in the horror of witnessing.”
Clay Cooper had made the casual statement that he should move away to go to school, that he should get out of Sycamore Mill and, as he phrased it, “just start over.”
“He’d read parts of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London for one of his classes, and he considered his self-imposed expulsion from Sycamore Mill as being a sort of romantic exile, a Byronic exodus. In the end, Clay would discover that Chicago wasn’t London or Paris or even New York, for that matter. It wasn’t romantic. But it did fix Clay.”
“As opposed to the rent, tuition wasn’t so cheap, even with the generous monthly check his mom had promised to send. Clay quickly found a job as a dishwasher at an unassuming bistro around the corner from his apartment. The work, for Clay, was nobly menial and lent itself appropriately to his loner’s sojourn.
In the mornings he’d taken to buying a newspaper before catching the bus, skimming the pages as a means of avoiding potential contact or conversation. For Clay, this apparent cooperative disregard for politeness and conviviality—elements so pervasive in his bucolic hometown—was one of the more appealing aspects of living in the big and busy city. He hadn’t been good at being affable or gregarious in Sycamore Mill anyway, so the funny game of acting indifferent suited Clay just fine; and, initially at least, he appropriated this daily lack of interest to all his neighbors.
All his neighbors. Except one.”
Details That Would Otherwise
Be Lost to Shadow
She is a mother and wife telling of her situation years after a life changing incident, she is trespassing upon a neighbors home and with haunting unfolding aspects of truths and the unraveling of the incomprehensible, compelling you forward with psychological unnerving telling.
“To answer your question: yes, of course it occurred to me that this was grossly illegal; and I was aware that entering a home under these circumstances amounted to simple trespassing or criminal mischief (though intent obviously dictates either criterion). But the clueless concern of a good-natured neighbor certainly wouldn’t qualify for these charges, would they? And sure, I’d considered the possibility of an alarm; yet, like many of the exterior’s non-contemporary features, no up-to-date blips or bleeps sounded from within. Besides, my intent was driven by two things: the bloodless need to know and the designer’s-eye desire to assess the persona of its occupants. My career had been about telling stories not with words, but rather with things.”
About Clint Smith
Clint Smith is the author of the collection GHOULJAW AND OTHER STORIES (Hippocampus Press, 2014), and the novella, WHEN IT’S TIME FOR DEAD THINGS TO DIE (Unnerving Press, 2019). His sophomore collection, THE SKELETON MELODIES, is is now available from Hippocampus Press.
Of late, his story, “Behemoth,” can be found in the Scott Dwyer anthology, PLUTO IN FURS.
A former freelance writer, Clint’s non-fiction stories and columns have previously appeared in FARM Indiana Magazine, SOUTH Magazine, the Southside Times, and the Indianapolis Star. Readers can follow him on Twitter @clintsmithtales; or read more at clintsmithfiction.com.
In 2018’s 21st-CENTURY HORROR: Weird Fiction at the Turn of the Millenium, literary scholar and critic, S.T. Joshi, includes an essay segment titled, “Clint Smith: Decaying Cities, Decaying Lives.” “Smith is gifted with a mellifluous, eloquent prose that avoids the contrasting pitfalls of self-conscious literariness and excessively austere starkness,” writes Joshi, “portraying his grim scenarios with intensity and cumulative power.”
Clint lives in Indiana, along with his wife and children, just outside Deacon’s Creek.