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The Surgeon's Mate: A Dismemoir
by Alan M. Clark
IFD Publishing, $12.95, 239 pages
Published: March 2016

This is an eerie tale of a man who may merely be delirious from a brain abscess that triggers seizures, or may be stumbling across time to interact with a sociopath who experiences seizures, who may be an alternate version of himself.  It is enthralling, gut-wrenching, disturbing, and excruciatingly well written. You can read it fast for the thrills and revelations; or read it slowly, admiring the architecture, the arche-texture of the language and the storyteller's craft.

Before you start to read this novel, take a close, long look at the cover.  Count the number of hands. Count the feet. Notice how the face is slurred, artistically abscessed.  Check out the name of the cover artist: Alan M. Clark.  Hmm. Then, when you read the dedication, and the forward, and the first few pages, savor the rising appreciation that the addendum to the title, "A Dismemoir" may be alarmingly accurate and unsettlingly close to a truth perhaps best left unexamined.

It seems to me that the best horror is is written at the border of what is inevitable and what is invoked; the foreseen and the never before imagined; where the ordinary suddenly veers off into the terrifying.  In the case of Alan Clark's novel, a sense of the uncertainty of reality, of how subjective experience can have invisible razor edges, seems to penetrate the reader's mind with the surgical needle of the first-person-pronoun I.  The thread of the tale it draws through your brain at first feels as if it might be slicked with poison; a little later, there is no "might"; you can feel the poison entering your blood.  And at some point, there is the seductiveness of evil.  Sometimes, our inner Adam wants to know good and evil more than it wants what is good.  When Clark is inside the head of the sociopath Frederick, who has to use his fingers to check the expression he arranges on his face as he plans to lure a woman off so he can torture her, you know this is not a healthy person's reality.  And yet it is… horribly fascinating. 

The saving grace of the story is how horror is counterbalanced by dispassionate humor - not quite a contradiction in terms -  and a sense of displaced, deeply abiding love for the people whose shadows are cast in the story.  Did I mention the best horror also has a redemptive quality?    - Chris Wozney

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