reviewed by David L. Tamarin | Thursday, March 9th, 2006

Originally published in Verbicide issue #16

Raw Dog Screaming Press, 146 pages, trade paperback, $12.95

According to Michael A. Arnzen, horror and flash fiction go together perfectly. The goal of horror flash fiction is to create a brief moment of uncertainty, a snapshot of terror, a flash of horror — and he goes about demonstrating that in 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories, a collection of ultra-short flash fiction. Some are no more than a few lines, the longest is just a few pages. But the impact of each one of these devastating tales is incredible, out of proportion to the brevity of the story. The stories, or prose poems, are extremely morbid — Arnzen possesses a gruesome imagination and a brilliant ability to bring his ideas to life in a few short words.

The words are like a short staccato of machinegun fire, horror stripped of everything but the essentials. According to the introduction, these flash fiction stories are “thought experiments.” It was a success, and Arnzen has inspired a generation of writers (such as myself) to try out this literary experiment. Reading 100 Jolts is a quick introduction to Arnzen’s world where you can never take anything for granted, and there is always something evil lurking around the corner. It is by defying our expectations that Arnzen constantly surprises and scares the reader.

The stories are funny, as well — Arnzen’s macabre sense of humor manifests itself in practically every story. It is a perfect combination of outrageous gore and the darkest of dark humor. You will laugh at disgusting things you never found amusing before, you will even be able to identify with the characters that populate this book. For example, if you think your job sucks, read Arnzen’s descriptions of the worst possible jobs, the kind the Devil himself would assign as punishment. Arnzen knows anatomy and he knows what disgusts, and he rubs our faces in it in page after page. The gore is unique, Arnzen’s quick descriptions revealing a bloody mess, a piece of brain, a mutilated body part, a squished bug, and a whole catalogue of nastiness.

There are highly experimental pieces, such as “Stabbing for Dummies,” which explains stabbing in everyday language so we can all understand it better. I don’t want to give away a single word in this book, as every word counts, but let me quote the opening paragraph of “Stabbing for Dummies”: “Remember: always grasp the knife by the end that is rubbery, leathery, or otherwise soft to the touch. If you don’t you’ll find it very difficult to dial for an ambulance.”

Then there is a little skit called “Who Wants to Be A Killionaire” that gruesomely parodies the television show for great effect. There is a cow café where you do not want to go to eat, a hot tub that heats up until the occupants are boiled like lobsters. “Five Mean Machines” is self-explanatory, a gruesome pastiche of evil devices.

This book is like a little gift, each page revealing a new present, a mini-story told with more flair and style than most novels. Minimalist Gore is turning into a popular genre thanks to the author of this book. Read it or be left out in the cold.

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