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Fearful Symmetries
Thomas F. Monteleone
Cemetery Dance Publications, 488 pages

Fearful Symmetries
Thomas F. Monteleone
Thomas F. Monteleone was born in 1946. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Olivia. He's been a professional writer since 1972, publishing more than 90 short stories, editing at least 6 anthologies and some 20 novels. His column of opinion, "The Mothers And Fathers Italian Association," appears in Cemetery Dance magazine. In 1993, his novel, The Blood of the Lamb, won a Bram Stoker Award. His TV credits include Tales From the Darkside and PBS television.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Interview: Thomas F. Monteleone: Literary Lion

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mario Guslandi

When I bought my copy of this book I realized, much to my dismay, that, being a faithful collector of horror anthologies, I had already read over the years most of the stories included. Which says a lot about Thomas F. Monteleone's reputation as a short fiction writer. I was hoping that Fearful Symmetries would provide new material from this author (hence the reason of my disappointment), but I didn't mind at all taking a second look to stories I had already enjoyed in the past.

A successful novelist, Monteleone is also a recognized master in the art of short story crafting. Having started out as a SF and fantasy writer, he has moved to dark fiction and during the last two decades his tales have appeared in a number of seminal genre anthologies such as Masques, Post Mortem, Charles Grant's Terrors and Greystone Bay, Cold Blood, Love in Vein, 999, Imagination Fully Dilated, to mention a few. He has made contributions to the HWA anthologies Under the Fang, Freak Show and Ghosts and to genre magazines such as Grue, Cemetery Dance and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. These are the prestigious sources of the twenty-six stories chosen by Monteleone for the present, hefty collection.

The themes range widely from revenge, black magic, Lovecraftian monsters to stories of cruel wagers, obsessive fatherly love, sheer madness, sometimes with a gentle Twilight Zone touch, sometimes with a nasty taste.

The quality, needless to say, is consistently good, the writing style mature and entertaining and it's hard to name one story or another as the most interesting. Ironically to me the less accomplished story, the one I found really unconvincing is the one Monteleone indicates as his favorite ("Looking for Mr. Flip"), which confirms once more than authors are often bad judges of their own work or, more simply, that taste is a very personal matter. Other stories are not without flaw, because of a too overt symbolism ("Lux and Veritas") or an occasional excess of moralism ("Rehearsals").

The bulk of Monteleone's body of work, however, remains excellent, some stories being just perfect, especially when he manages to exert restraint over his slight tendency to self-indulgence as a storyteller. Stories worth a particular mention are: "The Roadside Scalpel" about the terrible revenge of a man who has lost everything, "The Night Is Freezing Fast" describing some crazy games taking place on the highway, "The Wager," a chilling tale portraying the fierce rivalry between two men and the deeply disturbing "Under Your Skin" where the horrific meaning of a weird painting interferes with the ambiguous relationship between two sisters.

Each story is presented with extensive comments by the author. Monteleone's notes about the genesis of the tales are extremely and uncommonly entertaining. This doesn't come as a total surprise since he's not only a fine fiction writer but also a competent columnist and the author of non-fiction bestsellers such as the controversial "The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association" (a.k.a. MAFIA). Which, incidentally, reminds me to tell... Since I'm Italian too, in case you're wondering about my praise for Monteleone:
1. we're neither relatives nor friends;
2. we never met;
3. he doesn't even know I exist.
So much for the MAFIA thing. Once, after reading the splendid anthology Borderlands 5 edited by Monteleone and his wife, I left him a brief note of appreciation on his message board at a genre website. He never replied.

Copyright © 2005 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.

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