12 Rounds Media, LLC, 191 pgs
Submitted by the author
The Twilight Zone. This is what I was thinking throughout this collection: The Twilight Zone. Cue music.
Rattlebone Tales Volume I by Grant Kauffman (a Texas author) is a collection of 8 short stories and some of them will rattle your bones. And your brain. The author draws inspiration for these stories from some unlikely places: the housing bubble, the slippery slope of reactionary politics, and possibly the establishment where he gets his hair cut. Mr. Kauffman is a versatile writer, able to conjure down-home Texas as well as suburban tract and sophisticated wealth.
The first story "An Old Soul" is one of the best of this first collection. The 15-year-old boy recounting this tale is indeed an old soul, possibly as old as evil itself. A local family has been murdered in a home invasion and our protagonist (?) dares his buddies to accompany him on an expedition to find out for themselves if the rumors that the house is haunted are true. His friends wisely decline but that doesn't deter our hero, who appears to be nursing a nascent adrenaline jones, from investigating on his own. Do y'all remember how Dolarhyde in Thomas Harris's Red Dragon chose his victims? Keep that in mind. I will not reveal the plot twist sprung on us on the next-to-last page of this story. Mr. Kauffman is fond of plot twists and, luckily for us, good at them. Something to contemplate: once you experience the extraordinary can you ever again be satisfied with the ordinary?
"Granddad's Cellar" is another standout, the story that inspired the cover art which is quite well done. My curiosity was roused and the pacing is flawless. The suspense in this tale had me resisting the urge to glance ahead. It takes place in East Texas which, in my opinion, is actually the Old South, not Texas. It's a tricky business to wander too far east of I35. This is important to the plot. Jacob Rustin is about to be initiated into the real family business and nothing is as it seems, including his grandfather "...a stranger he had known for over seventeen years..." Turns out Granddad's cellar may as well be the entrance to hell, a veritable Ploutonion at Nacogdoches.
Now this is a first collection and as such is expected to be uneven. Mr. Kauffman is a versatile writer, able to conjure down home Texas as well as suburban tract and sophisticated wealth. The only thing that really concerns me here is an abundance of female stereotypes. There is the gold-digger, the bitter divorcee, the provincial big-haired soccer moms. I understand that stereotypes have generally become stereotypes for a reason. Note that word "generally." There is danger in assumptions and lack of empathy. There is potential here, oh yes. Shades of R.L. Stine, perhaps even of Stephen King. They had to start somewhere and this is as good a place to start as any, and better than most. I await Volume II.