What makes us do the things we do? Is it nurture or instinct? Chance or choice? Are we born with a destiny, or are the events of our lives unforeseeable until they happen? Like a snake eating its tail, this philosophical question is one that will never be answered but won’t ever go away.
Writer/director Mick Garris explores this Sysiphisian loop of actions and consequences in THESE EVIL THINGS WE DO. The delightfully dark collection is made up of four short stories previously released in limited print runs and a new novella published here for the first time.
The book begins with a lovely introduction from the author, presented in that calm, easy-going manner that has become the beloved director’s signature. In it, he sets up the collection to follow by weighing work for the camera against work for the page. “Screenwriting is the creation of the blueprint from which dozens of people will work. Fiction is its own beast, and the words really matter.”
Garris couldn’t have said it better. The stories that follow show just how much ease he has with both.
“Awful People” is the overarching title for the first half of the collection, and it sums things up nicely. But who is awful in each story is very much left up to interpretation. In “Free”, an overtaxed mother of twins decides to escape her life only to discover she was the single thing holding back its destruction. “Ugly” follows a vapid high-profile plastic surgeon whose distaste for imperfection is only matched by his cruelty.
“Free” and “Ugly” are the perfect tales to begin this collection, as they give Garris a chance to show off how easily he can climb into his characters’ minds. Within paragraphs, you’re trapped in the main characters’ thrall, as they divulge every secret desire and displeasure directly into your hungry eyes. But it’s not just the characters that are compelling. Garris is a master at description, using fresh phrases that will make the reader pause and smile at their absolute rightness. A charging cell phone is “drinking electricity;” a distasteful gaze feels like a “slimy blanket;” while “cauliflower clouds” dot blue skies.
The next stories, “Tyler’s Third Act” and “Snow Shadows,” take things in new subgenre directions. The former makes associations between social media and cannibalism with a style that would make Clive Barker jealous. While the latter is not only the single-story with a setting outside Southern California, but it’s also the only piece to play with more overt supernatural questions.
What connects these four unique stories goes beyond the theme of awful people. Their true bond is the pervasive sense of personal desperation buried deep in every page. These people are lonely, misunderstood, and dejected. The world has failed them in one way or another, and the imperfect society we’ve built is reflected in their every move. It’s haunting, sad, and painfully beautiful.
The second half of THESE EVIL THINGS WE DO is a new story titled “Salome.” This piece follows James Turrentine as his sedentary life is upended following the murder of his wife, Chase. It’s a slow burn mystery that keeps giving you clues but refuses to help you put them together. “We’ll get there,” Garris seems to say beneath his precise and quiet prose. Try as you might, Garris has made it impossible to get ahead of his narrator, and that tight plotting fills the story with an uneasy dread.
But while the story takes its rightful time to unravel, the tension is forever building, throbbing like newly bruised skin. One of my favorite moments of growing suspense occurs when the story flips to Chase’s perspective on the night of her death. She’s being pursued and is desperate for escape. In one simple line, Garris tightens his grip on the reader’s heart while simultaneously giving a nod to horror fans with an unmistakable reference to classic slashers. “He never got faster than a quick walk; I never slowed from a full-on run.”
Garris is a supremely talented storyteller. But that’s not news to anybody.
It takes a particularly sick brain (and I mean that as a compliment) to confront premises as horrifying as the ones in THESE EVIL THINGS WE DO. But that’s the exact kind of writer necessary to make good horror fiction. Storytellers like Garris look unblinking at their vile characters, their horrid motivations, and – because they’re unafraid of what they’ll find – they deliver stories unlike any that have been seen before.
This collection will shock you, it will make you squirm, but it won’t let you stop reading. And no matter how often you gasp, or how quickly you turn the page, you won’t be able to deny the pleasure you took in THESE EVIL THINGS WE DO.
THESE EVIL THINGS WE DO is now available to own on Kindle as well as paperback. For more info, click here.