Maternal Instinct, by J. F. Gonzalez

maternal-instinct-by-j-f-gonzalez coverGenre: Horror Anthology
Publisher: Delirium Books
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Ray Wallace

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OVERVIEW: A collection of four horror short stories and the 134 page novella after which the collection is named.

DETAILS: The Maternal Instinct novella is definitely the star of this show, the headliner, so to speak, before which we get to be entertained by four opening acts. First to hit the stage is “Fan Boy,” a story of a teenage boy named Danny being reunited with his lost love. But in this case the woman he loves is not someone he has actually ever met. He has seen plenty of her, though, enough to know that he does love her, wants to spend the rest of his life with her. After all, he owns all of her movies and has made plenty of good use of the edition of X-Rated Stars magazine that she was showcased in. The only problem is that she was recently found dead in her apartment, a needle in her arm. But Danny’s borderline psychotic older brother just happens to have a friend who works the night shift at the local funeral parlor. And guess whose body is being housed there? What follows is an act of love strong enough to warm the heart and churn the stomach.

Next up is “Drink My Blood,” a vampire story that is probably the collection’s least inspired tale which should nonetheless be appreciated by those who enjoy the works of the Rice/Brite/Kiernan triumvirate.

Then there is “The House,” a fun little tale about two small time crooks looking to steal a hidden treasure who find out the hard way why it has lain undiscovered for so long.

The last of the openers, “Tattoos,” treads solidly and respectably on H. P. Lovecraft’s turf. It deals with a married couple who are into tattoos. Really into them. And as fate would have it their favorite artist in the world has offered to use them as his canvases, an offer he has never made to anyone before. Pure bliss, right? Not if the artist is Geraldo Montivaldi, a man whose sanity obviously deteriorates over the eight-month-long inking session. A man who begins to make passing references to the Old Ones and the opening of a gateway. Are these tattoos something more than mere dark art? Do they have some hidden purpose? Not that there’s much that can be done about them once they’ve been inked.

And now for the main attraction… This story is undoubtedly going to draw comparisons to Jack Ketchum’s Right To Life. And it should. They are very similar stories. Both deal with pregnant women who are abducted, who are forced to see and participate in acts that will obviously scar them for the rest of their lives. However long, or short, those lives may be. Both stories ultimately deal with what each woman is able to endure and what lengths she will go to in order to survive. And it is the contrasts — the different ways in which each woman handles her situation — not the comparisons, that makes the reading of both tales so fascinating. This is, however, a review of Maternal Instinct, not Right To Life, and so I will stick to the story at hand. (To find out more about Mr. Ketchum’s book simply read my separate review of it.)

And so the story goes… Brad and Lisa Miller have decided to take a little road trip, to see some sights, to spend a little romantic time together. They have been married for five years, have spent the last two trying to have a child. Finally, it has happened. Lisa is pregnant. She plans on telling Brad that evening over dinner.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t get the chance. After a citizen’s arrest Brad is placed in jail for the weekend. Lisa is left alone in their hotel room. Then she is abducted. Why? And by whom? Was the citizen’s arrest just a setup? Sometimes having the answers is worse than not knowing. Eventually she comes to find out that she has been abducted by an underground torture/pornography ring. You know, the kind that’s into making snuff films.

Not good news. Not for anyone, especially a pregnant woman for she also has the life of her unborn child to consider. How far will she go to save the life of that child? Or is it really the child she is concerned about? The answers, in this case, truly are shocking. This is the type of subject matter that the movie 8 mm didn’t have the guts to handle properly. There are no punches pulled here. J. F. Gonzalez has created a tale that will stick in the reader’s mind long after the last page is turned. It is a story that will move even the most desensitized of horror fans. If you want a glimpse into the darkest depths of the human psyche then read Maternal Instinct. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

BOTTOM LINE: Four short stories ranging from good to very good set the stage for a truly memorable piece of fiction. The Maternal Instinct novella is a must read for anyone who thinks he/she is beyond being shocked by mere words on a page. Disturbing stuff.

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