Dreadful Delineations
John Maclay
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Buy *Dreadful Delineations* by John Maclay online

Dreadful Delineations
John Maclay
Delirium Books
212 pages
November 2007
rated 1 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Dreadful Delineations is a slim short story collection of the horror genre, and its short stories are extremely short. There are thirty stories in one hundred ninety-seven pages, which means each story is six to seven pages long. They cover the range of horror themes, from ghosts to ax murderers to cannabilism to, even, the Headless Horseman. However, they are always in America, always narrated by men, and the men tend to be older, around middle-aged. Quite a few of them portray women in some kind of negative light; either the woman is kind of crazy, or more commonly, sexually deviant. In fact, sex is a large aspect of the collection, and it's never plain old vanilla sex. Readers who offend easily should probably stay away.

The strength to the collection is the plots: they tend to have interesting twists on an idea. For example, in "Pigeons," an office-worker is driven insane by the pigeons who live in the same building. One day, he goes to see them, and he finds himself becoming what he hates. Meanwhile, in "A Younger Woman," a man who has left his wife is driving across the country with his mistress. Unfortunately, his mistress seems to be changing by the day. While these plots are inventive, others feel like they're recycled from a B-horror movie. So, while plotting is Maclay's strength, the collection on the whole is hit or miss.

Meanwhile, Maclay doesn't even attempt to flesh out his characters or settings. The narrators seem interchangeable for the most part; the voice never changes from one story to the next, which is a serious flaw. Moreover, the non-narrative characters feel even flatter, and in the case of women, it seem Maclay subscribes to the Madonna-Whore theory. There isn't a single story where this reader cared about the characters, or where the characters leapt off the page and had a life of their own. Moreover, the settings are virtually nonexistent. The reader assumes, for the most part, that the stories occur in America, and either in the suburbs or a city or sometimes the country. That's the most variety that occurs.

As for writing style, Maclay doesn't go for any literary effects. Instead, he uses simple words in simple sentences. While this works in some cases, here the boring style is coupled with boring characters and a boring setting; the effect is frustrating at best, soporific at worst.

In fact, all of these stories feel like assignments some creative writing student turned in on a prompt. And not a particularly inspired student, either. Even when Maclay has an original, or interesting, plot twist, he uses cardboard characters in order to tell the plot. If he first breathed life into his characters, then had them act out the plots, this collection might have a chance. In the horror genre, readers can only be scared if they care about the characters. Otherwise, it's just words on a page, and this book didn't once give me goosebumps.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Eva Kay, 2008

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