Smothered Dolls

By A.R. Morlan

Overlook Connection Press

2007; 288 pages

As a relative newcomer to the horror genre, I had never heard of A.R. Morlan, who’d been mainly writing short stories since 1985, until I read an advance proof of her first collection, Smothered Dolls. Now I’m an ardent fan. Of the fifteen stories in this collection, three were reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, three are new, and nine appeared previously in various magazines and anthologies published from the late eighties to the early twenty-first century. The three honored stories are “The Second Most Beautiful Woman in the World” about a man’s admiration of a woman who entered a contest at a local diner, “Yet Another Poisoned Apple for the Fairy Princess” about a henpecked husband’s agony, and “Tattoo” about the different effects of a tattoo for a man and woman who met in a bar, not for the first time. The new stories include “Smothered Dolls or the Girl Who Could Never Be Good” about a girl raised by her abusive mother and grandmother, “The German Lady” about the relationship between an old German woman and her young female American personal caregiver, and “Milan, March 1972” about an artist’s obsession with a popular Zdenek print. The other stories are “No Heaven Will Not Ever Heaven Be” about a photographer’s meeting with a retired painter of barn advertisements, “Civic Duties” about a woman performing a strange civic duty, “Powder” about a young woman suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, “In a Fine and Verdant Place” about a man moving into a new home that isn’t what it seems, “Dora’s Trunk” about a woman’s dissatisfaction of her husband’s and her move to the Dust Bowl during the Depression, “The Gemutlichkeit Escape” about an American POW and his relationship with his German captor, “The On’ner” about a Kentucky farmer’s unusual invention, “Need” about a man logging onto internet chat room by accident to fulfill a unrealized need, and “- And the Horses Hiss at Midnight (Non-Vampire Version)” about a special characteristic of wooden carousel horses at a carnival. The writing for each story is crisp and concise and most go for the ‘aha’ ending which works for Morlan. The characters are fleshed out and relatable within quick moving plots, which shows Morlan’s mastery of this written form. Smothered Dolls has enough types of horror to suit any connoisseur, from dark fantasy to gut-kicking reality. In addition, each story is supplemented by an afterward that delves into Morlan’s reasoning behind each tale, some of which are altered from their original publications. However, most of the afterwards are insightful anecdotes. Unfortunately her bitterness and resentment over her abusive childhood she mentioned in a couple of afterwards should have been edited out by the publisher. I feel it slightly overshadowed her immense talent. This is the only flaw I found in the collection.

Although pricy at $44.95 from the publisher, Smothered Dolls is well worth it for the serious horror connoisseur. I highly recommend it.

– Reviewed by Karen Newman

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~ by darkdiscoveries on March 12, 2009.

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