Throughout A Garden Fed by Lightning, the third story collection from Marshall Moore, the quality of the writing is consistently sharp, continually impressive. Infused with an element of the fantastical, many of the stories, initially appearing straightforward and grounded in reality, veer off into unexpected, outlandish territory, and, more often than not, characters are not what they seem. As their narratives progress, you discover dark secrets, fake identities, and unpleasant talents. They hurt, they deceive, they steal, and, sometimes, they are directly responsible for taking a person’s life.
In “And Dream of Sheep,” a telepathic passenger on a train, able to “listen in on the living and the dying,” takes a peek into the head and lungs of the coughing man behind him and determines the cause is pneumonia. The central character has a “special gift”—the ability to take life, something he does regularly. He does it here and, once done, confesses to “looking forward to the screams” of “the horrible little girl” in the compartment when one of the passengers realizes that the man with the cough is now dead.
There are other characters in the collection with similar psychic abilities and the same wanton disregard for human life. In “Hell Is Other People,” Adrian Xemxi, an office worker recently returned to earth from hell, has partial access to people’s psyches. He is not just able to read their minds, but actually force his own thoughts “through the membrane separating himself and the Vessel.” During a dull office meeting Adrian overpowers a colleague’s mind, fracturing it in the process. The author’s aptitude for humor turns what might otherwise be a lame, hackneyed idea into an entertaining story.
Full of gruesome passages, the remarkable story continues in this provocative manner until its grizzly, unanticipated climax. Fortunately, this is not the only instance where Moore applies his twisted humor to dark and disturbing situations. “Underground,” his tale of teenage students lured into underground stations by their college professors and then served up to Minotaurs as a periodic tribute, is wildly entertaining. The grotesque descriptions of these terrifying, snorting creatures feeding on (and then fornicating with) screaming victims are tempered by delightfully macabre humor. Explaining the predilection of these frightful beasts, Moore notes, “Minotaurs loved an audience when they fed yet they became almost prissy when the time came for sexual release.” While some showed a “willingness to mate with a boy whose face they’d just eaten,” others preferred sexual satisfaction first and eating later. Considering a Minotaur’s “bullish endowment,” being dined on before serving as an object of desire was probably “the more merciful option,” observes Moore.
The interesting blend of science fiction, fantasy, and horror gives A Garden Fed by Lightning a distinctive quality, and Marshall Moore’s literary flair and ghoulish humor prevent the work from ever feeling like standard genre fiction. All in all, this is a uniquely imaginative, startlingly enjoyable collection of uncommonly well-written tales.
(Signal 8 Press, paperback, $15.42)
Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Marshall Moore’s A Garden Fed by Lightning. Read the full, in-depth book review here.