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She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror
edited by Tim Lieder
Dybbuk Press, 143 pages

She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror
Tim Lieder
Tim Lieder is the founder of Dybbuk Press.

Tim Lieder Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

The title of this slim collection of nine stories that recast Biblical legends (the one exception is Catherynne Valente's "Psalm of the Second Body," based on the Epic of Gilgamesh, but which nonetheless resonates similar themes, as you might expect to find in any comparative religion class) reminds us that a lot of really nasty things were going on a few hundred centuries ago among so-called religious people (sound familiar?) all in the name of serving God. For that matter, God himself performs some really nasty things, including a global flood, plagues and pestilence (one in particular inflicted on a loyal adherent just to prove a point) as well as exhortations to destroy infidels.

Not surprisingly, the majority of these retellings are based from accounts in the Torah (what Christians refer to somewhat condescendingly as the Old Testament), reflecting the trials and tribulations of a patriarchal nomadic existence characterized by continuing warfare, disease and devastating "acts of God," in which simple survival is often rooted in brutality and trickery. As Gerri Leen in "Whither Thou Goest" puts it in her depiction of Ruth, who is a bit more devious in her devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi than in the original:

  In the stories of those who survive, I am a heroine. In the stories of my own people, those of us descended from Lot's daughter, from her incestuous union with her own father, I am also a heroine. If two such noble people see me as such, who am I to complain?

They both love me because I endure. Because I survive. Because I cling with holy (or is it unholy) fervor to the woman who bore the man I sucked dry. Once she knew who I was, Naomi would have killed me if she could, but her life is forfeit if I should cease to draw breath. I saw to that when I said the ancient words, binding me to her, twining my very breath with hers.

"Wherever you go, I will go."

Beautiful aren't they, these words of power of control…

P. 13


In Leen's recounting, Ruth isn't some virtuous convert whose redemptive re-marriage carries on a family line that leads to David and ultimately Jesus Christ, but a demon whose sustenance depends on sucking the souls of others. The implications of a Biblical setting go beyond a plot device for a horror story. If the main character is seen as an avenging demon, a false convert, who becomes revered as a foremother of the virgin birth of Jesus according to the genealogy in Matthew, what might that say about what the Son of God hath wrought?

"Babylon's Burning" by Daniel (appropriately enough) Kaysen depicts a modern apocalypse when the soothsayer Daniel yields to temptation and goes to work for the government contractor security firm, Bell, Chase & Herr. Christi Krug's "As If Favorites of Their God" imagines an embittered Saul's visit to the witch of Endor, where he finds solace and ultimately redemption in some other source than God. Elissa Malcohn reinvisions Tamra, the daughter of King David who does nothing to punish a half-brother who raped her, as a motorcycle riding punkster, hell bent on setting aright a universe on the wrong continuum by killing her father, an inversion of the trope of the sacrificed son of the Father that underpins Christian belief.

"Judith didn't know how many times she'd beheaded Holofernes. Counting skulls didn't cut it -- too many given away as souvenirs, or repurposed as building material. Bone is stronger than tent; that's a fact" (89). Holofernes was an invading general who was seduced by Judith, then had his head cut off by her after he had too much to drink. Gave a whole new meaning to the expression "heads over heels in love." Anyway, in Romie Stott's surrealistic version (as if the original isn't somewhat surrealistic itself) "Judith & Holofernes," the two characters seems stuck in some kind of recurring reenactment of the famous deed. But the reality is that no matter how many times she kills the man, in every scenario he stays dead, presumably to make a pointed contrast to the subsequent promise of God and his son in the New Testament about everlasting life.

The narrator of Lyda Morehouse's "Jawbone of an Ass" is in a short, unhappy marriage to a mercurial IRA leader who appears to be possessed by God. "That God has chosen sides in this bloody war angers me beyond words" (100) and she decides she must betray him to the British authorities. Needless to say, God is not pleased.

Stephen M. Wilson turns Jonah and the Whale into a Lovecraftian horror story in, you guessed it, "Swallowed!" The non-linear narrative is by design a little difficult to fathom at first, but worth the adventure. "Last Respects" by D.K. Thompson is a vampire story and while it's a genre that has been overworked of late and one I'm finding a bit tiresome, it's a nicely ironical depiction of an old man's grief both of a deceased loved one and a cultural tradition likely to be lost forever. A fitting observation for a collection based on a belief-system that promises better things for humankind, even while in the commission of doing evil things.

Copyright © 2011 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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