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Extremities
Kathe Koja
Four Walls Eight Windows, 200 pages

Extremities
Kathe Koja
Kathe Koja is the best-selling author of The Cipher, Bad Brains, Skin, and Strange Angels. She has won the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award. Her short stories have appeared in Whisper of Blood, The Best of Pulphouse, and other anthologies, as well as in Asimov's SF and Fantasy & Science Fiction, among other magazines. She is a Detroit native, and lives there with her husband and son.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by S. Kay Elmore

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In Kathe Koja's world, there is the potential for horror in every situation. In Extremities, her first collection of short stories, she proves it with seventeen lush and startling visions. Each story explores an extreme state of being: obsession, grief, survivors guilt, insanity, death, and what seems to be Koja's favorite subject, artistic expression. The stories delve into the bizarre underworld of sex, violence, and passion that is potent fuel for nightmares.

This is not a book for the squeamish. It's well known that horror and sex are longtime lovers, and Koja exploits that fact with lush gore and grotesque erotica. In "Disquieting Muse," a psychologist using art therapy to assist mentally ill patents is entangled in the violently sexual drawings produced by one of his patients. His professional objectivity soon turns to obsession until he is finally consumed by the images. "Queen of Angels" is a quietly beautiful tale of a nurse's transforming encounter with a catatonic patient. It seems the only horror here is the nursing home, where people are left to die alone and forgotten by all except for their nurses and aides. One of the more disturbing stories is "Teratisms". A brother and sister are charged with the care of Alex, a monster child that makes Rosemary's Baby look positively angelic. On the run through Louisiana, pursued by fear, incestuous desire, and the need to watch Alex, they are driven to a bitter choice. My favorite story is "Lady Lazarus," where the extreme is found within a poet's all-night struggle to put voice to the words pounding within her.

I could not read this book quickly. Koja's voice is stunning, and I found myself reading a phrase several times: once for the sheer impact of the story, and once to listen to the intricate rhythm of her words. After each story, I had to put the book down and carefully consider what I'd just read. I was disturbed. These stories have an uncanny way of turning on you, making "you" the monster for having enjoyed them. Koja leaves no sensation, no thought, no tiny detail untouched, and in doing so creates a kind of photorealism in prose that is both fascinating and painful to look at. This kind of writing might come across as inaccessible for some readers. It's uncomfortable to read and some people might find the graphic sex and violence objectionable. I would recommend this book for the mature horror fan tired of reading the same-old vampire and serial killer fare.

Copyright © 1998 S. Kay Elmore

S. Kay Elmore is a graphic artist, writer and corporate wage slave. She edits The Orphic Chronicle, an online magazine, and tries to make ends meet by writing and developing corporate newsletters and web sites.


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