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Dating Secrets of the Dead
David Prill
Subterranean Press, 125 pages

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David Prill
David Prill's writing has been described as a homegrown mix of odd humor and horror. His novels include The Unnatural, Serial Killer Days and And Second Coming Attractions.

David Prill Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Lisa DuMond

Ah, the simple pleasures of small town life. That first, awkward date with the girl of your dreams. The excitement when the carnival comes to town. Those endless days of waiting for the traveling spook show to roll back through again. It's practically a Norman Rockwell painting... until David Prill gets ahold of it. Then, homespun and na´ve go crashing through the window as a whole new world sets up camp.

Take the tender story of young love, the titular story of the collection, and it's a 50s hygiene film approach to a very different kind of wooing. Some say that infatuation never changes, but they never had to deal with decomposition. Courting from six feet under has its own unique challenges, as this primer on manners so vividly illustrates. Perhaps, too vividly at times for some, but it is information every non-growing kid should have.

Besides, that's not gore; "Carnyvore," now that's gore. Why is it that any time the topic of carnies comes up in horror that you just know that you're in for a stomach-turning time? This tale of the down-sizing of a traveling carnival dangles the ghastliness to come in front of the reader from the first sentence. By turns darkly witty and appalling, it makes a valid point about making decisions of political incorrectness without consulting the alleged victims. If your town has experienced the heated "dwarf-tossing" debate, you already know that sometimes the crusaders seldom hear the protests of the people actually affected, leaving many with heaps of dignity and empty pockets.

Both stories entertain and titillate, but it is in the final piece that Prill really hits his stride. This is an author whose true strength lies in long fiction. "The Last Horror Show" is heads above the other stories -- shrunken heads, maybe, but heads nonetheless. Perfectly captured on paper is the wholesome/claustrophobic atmosphere of small towns everywhere. Tiny dots on a map where the only excitement seems to come from outside the city limits and offers the only escape from growing up and growing old in the same dull burg. Prill allows us to follow along in the years between child and young man, measured out in precious visits from "Dr. Ogre Banshee's Chasm of Spasms," or whatever its next incarnation is called.

The hero moves against the distant backdrop of the Viet Nam war, protests, and all world events that pale in comparison to the allure of the spook show. Somewhere in the pancake make-up and cheap special effects is the only reality he wants, even as he sees it slipping away -- a shred at a time for the show and for his innocence. It's a powerful, recognizable image that doesn't fade after you set the book aside.

Prill's wit is dry and very dark. His message in Dating Secrets of the Dead is a personal one to each reader; no two people will take away from it the same impressions. See what you read between the lines of the switchback. And get your hopes up for another new novel that must surely be dying to come out of David Prill.

Copyright © 2003 Lisa DuMond

In between reviews, articles, and interviews, Lisa DuMond writes science fiction, horror, dark realism, and humour. DARKERS, her first novel, was published in August 2000 by Hard Shell Word Factory. She is a contributing editor at SF Site and for BLACK GATE magazine. Lisa has also written for BOOKPAGE, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, Science Fiction Weekly, and SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE. You can check out Lisa and her work at her website hikeeba!.

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