Monday, July 12, 2021

Bain et al (edd.), ProleSCARYet (2021)

Ian A. Bain, Anthony Engebretson, J.R. Handfield, Eric Raglin & Marcus Woodman (edd.), ProleSCARYet: Tales of Horror and Class Warfare. Rad Flesh Press, 2021. Pp. 234. ISBN 978-1-7369-5321-1. $12.02 pb/$5.99 e.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

Few anthologies have managed to be the right idea at the right time as well as Prolescaryet. Percolating through COVID and BLM, it lands in our hands just as the powers that be demand a return to normalcy from a population for whom not much has changed. I, for one, am ready for a hot, steaming cup of “Fuck you” aimed at the corporate overlords. And that’s exactly what we get.

I’m going to inject a small shot of decaf into your enthusiasm, though, because the execution isn’t perfect. Opening with a COVID-aware story feels like a blunder, and there’s some sameyness in the first half: a lot of asshole bosses who get what they deserve, a lot of mysterious entities making offers too good to refuse—enjoyable repasts, certainly, but repetitive ones. Setting almost everything in contemporary America seems like a missed opportunity to explore the broader scope of capitalism, from Victorian factories to Amazon clearcutting. The lone fairy tale, “Sweet Meats: A Grisly Tale of Hansel and Gretel” by Tim Kane, is delightfully gross but would have been a better fit in a different collection. But if you, like me, find the beginning to be a slightly weak drink, stick around, because especially as it goes on, there are a lot of stories that pack a strong punch indeed.

Several themes rise to the surface that will resonate with anyone living under late-stage capitalism. There’s the banality of evil, as in “Empty” by Noah Lemelson, where minimum-wage employees are sent to their deaths in a monster-infested basement—to get a frozen yogurt refill for an irate customer. No-win choices arise in Corey Farenkopf’s “Salen’s Found,” which opens with a landscaping worker trying to decide between trimming poison ivy, which could set off a hospitalizing allergic reaction, or refusing and losing his desperately-needed job. Finally, there’s our own helpless complicity, most dramatically when workers build a carnivorous living building in “CORPOS!” by M. Lopes da Silva, the highlight of the collection.

All of us have been forced into situations that feel like these. And, in the end, that’s the real strength of ProleSCARYet. Amid the toothy maws, insect swarms, and stabbings, what the characters fear most are the same things we fear. In the deliriously strange “Blur” by David Stevens, when the protagonist discovers he’s excreting moths, he worries about being blamed for clogging the pipes. When the nameless protagonist of Tom Nicholson’s Kafkaesque “Falling Apart” begins losing body parts one at a time, he struggles to find new jobs to keep up with his increasing impairments. Over and over, it is the pressures of the working world that eclipse all else.

After all, isn’t the system the real horror?

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