Mazzenga creeps readers out with twisted townies, eerie sea creatures, aliens and more in his short story collection, Mad Tales
HP Lovecraft has had more of an impact on Rhode Island writers than I realized. It seems like every book or synopsis I read is Lovecraft-esque, tales of macabre with a touch of eccentricity to them. Joseph Mazzenga, who knew he would be a writer since the third grade, pays homage to Lovecraft in Mad Tales, four short stories that are a little bit fantasy, a little bit creepy and all very thoughtful.
“Pepperell” kicks things off with an odd telling of a town so small it doesn’t register on a map, has one road and a slew of too nice townies. A fire at a midnight festival attracts a group of bikers who came looking to loot and slaughter. What they didn’t expect was the townies to just roll over to their commands, offering friendship every step of the way. They rough up a diner for alcohol, though the patrons taking their threats with good humor really left them at a loss for words. Their trip to the local bank was even more of a head scratcher for them, but they get what they came for. It’s their trip to the bar that climaxes the story. This story reminds me of “The Lottery,” but with enough differences to be more than a rehash.
“Invasion of Blood” was part of an anthology titled “DIVE: A Quartet of Merfolk Tales,” and is my favorite of the four. This is a tale at sea that requires suspension of disbelief, but works so well on all levels. Maren, an advocate for sea animals, finds herself in a death situation until she is saved and learns of her fate and her protectors. There are a good number of twists, but every question gets answered. This whole story plays out like a movie, one that I would love to see on the big screen.
“When the Music Dies” is based on a poem, “The Dying Girl,” by Dr. Richard Dalton Williams. Dana, an FBI agent suffering from an aggressive brain tumor with six months left to live, is struggling to come to grips with her fate. Though she sees a doctor to help her cope, her biggest battle is internal. Her FBI partner tries to lend an ear, but to no avail. A cop with a medical death sentence is someone with literally nothing to lose, and Dana uses that logic while assisting a standoff. As with everything, there is always a twist, and “When the Music Dies” is no different. I really liked this twist that Mazzenga added, though the open ending left the reader to use his imagination. Instead, it just left me wondering.
It’d be tough to have a collection called “Mad Tales” without at least one story speaking of the apocalypse. That’s where “Bloody Depths” comes in. Aliens that are so far advanced easily take over, annihilating Earth and every living thing in it. This alien race seemed to hate everything about humans, at least from Captain M’Tal’s point of view. He mostly wanted to get home to his wives, but he wasn’t a fan of leaving things uncovered. When they find humans hiding in a cave, M’Tal tries to find out how they survived before putting them out of their misery. Things don’t quite go as planned, which leads to his people finding themselves in a similar situation to Earth. Though their demise was manmade, it wasn’t actually man who did it.
Due to other obligations and a jam packed holiday season that seemed to be over before it began, I only read “Pepperell” before the start of 2014, and that took way longer than it should have. Starting to worry about missing deadlines, I forced myself to find the time to read. Once I did, I couldn’t put the next three stories down. They roped me in and had me turning the page until there was nothing left to read. Mazzenga is a captivating storyteller who puts a human spin on even his most outlandish tale (“Invasion of Blood”). I spent a lot of time thinking the stories through in my head, really analyzing everything I had just read. For me, that is the sign of a great story, and Mad Tales blesses the reader with four of them.