Think of Goosebumps. Those books are simple, poorly written pulp/trash horror for kids. They’ve got some reasonably good ideas (albeit somewhat cliched) and decent (formulaic) plot twists. Basically, the books are real page-turners for kids.
People have said about the Avengers movie, that it’s got all the action of a Transformers movie, but it’s a well written and well made movie, too. If you replace Transformers with Goosebumps and Avengers with Eyeballs, that’s kind of how I relate to the book.
It’s not really about kids being frightened by the paranormal. I think it’s more the fact that really weird things are happening to normal people (‘normal’ = ‘American middle-class suburbanites’). And sometimes those people are school kids. Like in Goosebumps. And the things that occur to these people have that weird factor that starts as a mild curiosity and transforms throughout the story into a colossal mind-bender.
It’s a cultural horror, a whole other world of quirks that seem dangerous or frightening on the surface, but beneath all that, they’re usually quite harmless. It’s like going to a carnival and wandering down the hall of oddities.
When I started reading this book I read the first couple of short stories, enjoyed them, read them on a surface level, and left it at that. You’ve got everyday people discovering things that shouldn’t belong in the world. Like the jars of pickled fetuses that obviously look fake. A trick of the light. The carnies trying to pull a trick and make a quick buck. The characters Tony Rauch writes about react to their abnormalities in different ways. This is most apparent in the title story, Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again!
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I came back to the collection months later (procrastination getting the better of me) I became like the characters in his stories, and like the people at the carnival. Doing the double-take and having a closer look.
Yes, there is an army of clones growing in that kid’s neighbour’s basement. Yes, that kid has a team of miniature football players that seem to be alive. Yes, there are eyeballs growing all over him… again!
Once I made that double-take, I had to finish the collection. Rauch’s writing is so fluid, he teases the absurd out from the mundane lives of normal people. The stories and characters have a strange fascination that grows on you. He builds dramatic tension so well that once you’re in his world, you’re stuck with the characters to the end. Like the pickled punks in the jars, you need to read everything, study them from every angle, to know whether or not they’re the genuine article.
This short story collection is proof that Tony Rauch is the genuine article.
This review originally appeared in Surreal Grotesque, issue two. For more weird fiction, check out the free online magazine. It has some of my favourite authors in it, and the first bizarro story I ever read – Candy Coated, by Carlton Mellick III. For more reviews from me, you can subscribe to the manifold, or keep an eye on future volumes of Surreal Grotesque.