Darkling Smiles – Michaelbrent Collings
Reviewed by Michelle Enelen
- Paperback: 423 pages
- Publisher: Written Insomnia Press (28 July 2019)
Darkling Smiles is a collection of short stories spanning the career of Michaelbrent Collings, including one written by the author when he was still a teen. The inclusion marks a show of strength between stories, it highlights the growth of self-assurance in his writer’s voice. Authors constantly striving to improve their abilities are reminded of their own achievements. Writers just beginning their vocation will see a solid goal from the first Michaelbrent story straight through Perdition. His writing speaks with authority through the twisted trappings of damnation. It’s solid opposition to the quirky shyness his fans discover, residing comfortably in their favored artist.
That doesn’t mean this is a touchy-feely book unless the touch you seek is oozing out your eye sockets and running full malice through time warps and insanity. Watch your step, that first story will leave you lonelier than a family dinner on separate reality planes. When it’s over, you’ll find yourself checking up on your loved ones. Trying to see what they’re seeing, before it’s too late, while they still belong to you. They do, don’t they?
Collings likes to surprise you, not with jump scares, but with questions you didn’t think to ask. He’ll expose you to the unexpected, Polymorphism isn’t quite the same as you’ve prepared for? They make an amulet for that! He’ll take you on a trip through your past, try to steer you in the right direction, though by the time you notice, the key moment may have passed.
“Here, in this place where fools speak to strangers through Facebook and Twitter to people they’ve never met, while neglecting their neighbors…Here in this world where you’ve convinced yourselves oh-so-musically that monsters are not real…that demons do not exist”.
He tries to make you see, if you’ll allow it. Still, maybe you leave yourself open and maybe something worms it’s way inside. It’s probably too late to shut down the screen that’s taking you away.
You’ve heard of the dream sea Quiddity, from Clive Barker. It must exist, because here is another talented writer describing that fleeting lucidity to you. This book will make you want to hold on to what you love, to avoid a solitary existence. It brings you back to that thought over and over. Alone. He makes you wonder what you really know about your friends, significant others, do you even know your family? What if you woke up to a day that just wouldn’t end, a day where everything was turned on its head, you really were in the “Upside Down”, really was A-L-O-N-E. Laughing at your discomfort, Collings takes you one step further. Suppose you were only a child, forever. You’re tasked with trying to figure life out on your own. Then he drops a killer into the world, a killer you know.
These stories will make you uncomfortable as you’re forced to look at yourself through the eyes of the people you care for. The bite in your reply or the nonchalance that’s become normal. The dispassionate interactions that slipped into place covering who you used to be. Life is droning on around you, so what would you do to get back to real life, real feeling, would you kill for your family?
There’s a lot to like in these stories, Perdition is the standout. It’s also your lucky bonus because Collings has devilishly snuck a novel into an anthology of shorts. This story has plenty of twists, all of them corkscrewing deeper into a personal hell. Cults, sacrifices, family secrets, they gravel your path right through the doorway of disillusion. Weakness becomes strength, at least for a while. Never get comfortable when things seem too good to be true. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. Michaelbrent Collings is great at startling the reader just when it begins to feel like the story is wrapped up. He managed to surprise me, as he did in Terminal, another book high on my recommendations. He never bores you, if you think you’ve got it all sorted out, read the last few pages. He never lets you go easy.
I’m glad to have found Michaelbrent Collings. He’s got quite a cache of material that I’ll continue to devour. I recommend you give him your time. He’ll reward you for it.
A family that wins tablet computers at a deal to good to be believed…
A man who is sent across the universe, only to discover the most dangerous world in existence…
A hitman who realizes that his greatest contract is going to be himself…
A man whose child has been targeted by a cult, and must decide what he is willing to do to save those he loves…
Internationally-bestselling author and multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist Michaelbrent Collings brings you eight tales of people whose lives, and sometimes deaths, have fallen into decay. Tales of the ordinary and the extraordinary, the outrageous and the banal. Tales of lives bright, lives dim. Stories of a universe fallen, where every happiness has its opposite, and every smile will be inevitably darkled…
Raised by Pentecostal preachers, horror was not a readily available commodity. As her love grew, her parents were occasionally summoned to school to talk about book reports and various projects that weren’t quite appropriate for her age. They were lost as to where she’d gotten such “trash”. Luckily for her, there was a librarian that understood her insatiable hunger for darker worlds. Even now, if she could, she’d live among the stacks.
Her penchant grew to include ghastly movies and music, which she’ll happily share with anyone listening. The love of horror continues with her favorite videogame, “House of the Dead, Overkill”. She’s not the best gamer, except when defending herself against the wrong monsters. Headshots are her speciality.