100 Jolts, by Michael A. Arnzen

100 Jolts, by Michael A. Arnzen book coverGenre: Horror Anthology
Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Book Review by Ray Wallace

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There may not be a more appropriately named book to come out this year – – or any other, for that matter — than Michael Arnzen’s 100 JOLTS. It consists of, you guessed it, a hundred stories, the vast majority of which are of the flash fiction (a thousand words or less) variety making this one of the leanest, meanest collections on the market today. And there are jolts aplenty contained within its pages, quick little shots to the psyche that leave the reader’s inner masochist clamoring for more. The stories, and the many startling and original ideas behind most of them, come fast and furious, sometimes two to a page, and serve to fully display the breadth and depth of the author’s creative and obviously twisted imagination. This book is a virtual “how to” guide in regards to creating this type of fiction and should be required reading by anyone attempting to write short-shorts, especially of the horror variety. Now on to the jolts themselves…

After an appropriately brief introduction the reader is smacked right upside the head by Skull Fragments, a grim tale that is itself a collection of shorter tales, each said to be inscribed on a human skull, twelve of them in all, discovered by a young girl while playing in a giant pen filled with plastic balls at a fast food restaurant. Each story here is like a tasty hors de oeuvre, perfect little entrees for the ninety-nine course meal yet to come. How can one’s appetite not be whetted by such lines as “The ugly thing about a cat licking a man’s exposed bloody brain isn’t the way the lobes stick to the furry tongue; it’s the way the brain wobbles after the tongue lets go.” That was from “The Ugly Thing”. Here is “Gardener” in its entirety: “I hated every single word he ever spoke. So I clipped his spinal cord and turned him into a vegetable. But I forgot to water him. When he rotted, I pruned his skull, removing the jaw. Then I turned him upside down and grew tomatoes in his potted head.” Hungry yet?

Obviously, there are far too many stories here to review them all, so I will discuss a few of my favorites. There is “Obictionary” which depicts the awful deaths of one person after the next, told with a singsong rhythm that makes the horrible events related here oddly humorous. I’ve always been a sucker for zombie stories so it’s no great surprise that I enjoyed “Brain Candy” so much, a very short story in which a man on a rooftop takes target practice on a group of the undead with his rifle. “Stabbing for Dummies”, co-written by Vincent Sakowski, is pure genius. Here is one of the instructions offered within this mock manual: “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.” Here’s another one: “Stabbing has an objective. It is easy to forget this. Don’t. Especially when it gets messy.” And one more: “You may kiss your bloodied blade after a kill. Or, for that matter, lick it in front of your victim before that final fatal stab. Don’t worry about contracting disease. You earned it.”

Before I end up quoting this one in its entirety I will move on to “A Donation” which tells the tale of a man who wishes to donate his body to science. “I want people to smell me,” it reads. “I want people to see me for what I am. I want people to get their hands wet when they dig inside me. I want people to laugh. I want people to gag. I want people to have nightmares…”

On and on the jolts go in an avalanche of ideas and wordplay and brutal imagery that is sure to shock or titillate even the most jaded of readers. While writing this review I re-read a number of these stories and was amazed all over again by their sheer inventiveness, their razor sharp prose, and the perfectly streamlined delivery of so many of them. All of the one hundred stories presented here are entertaining. A number of them are classics. Michael Arnzen should be proud of what he has accomplished. 100 JOLTS is the creation of a very talented writer at the top of his game and will undoubtedly find itself on a number of awards lists this coming year. Highly recommended.

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