Monday, January 11, 2016

REVIEW: Do You Like to Look at Monsters? by Scott Nicolay

“Green green green…”

            In a year of many exceptional releases in the Horror/Weird Fiction genre, 2015 proved to be especially significant for author Scott Nicolay. Do You Like to Look at Monsters?, a chapbook from Fedogan and Bremer books, won the 2015 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction, further solidifying Nicolay as an important inclusion to the Weird Fiction community. Originally included in chapbook form exclusive to the deluxe edition of Nicolay’s debut collection Ana Kai Tangata, Monsters is now available to a wider readership as an eBook on Kindle.

            The setup of Monsters is deceptively simple. Centering on a young boy with a love for viewing reels in his Viewmaster, we enter the story from the perspective of a child curious about violence, perhaps unknowingly so. He enjoys seeing fantastic depictions of dinosaurs battling near erupting volcanoes, or sub-aquatic creatures terrorizing deep-sea vessels. In seeing the world through the boy’s innocent eyes an immediate sense of normality is established, yet intersecting the dinosaur fights and deep-sea menaces is the introduction of a troubled uncle returning from Vietnam. The equilibrium of simple, child-like wonder is disrupted, and things only get stranger from there. We are shown, strictly through our young narrator, a boy gradually exposed to a horror beyond his comprehension, culminating in an ending that truly frightened me.

            There are narrative layers to explore within this story, pieces and parts that, should you choose to ponder, will begin to align themselves to form a darker picture – not unlike assembling disparate pieces of film to place in your very own Viewmaster. Those already familiar with Nicolay’s work will find his trademark versatility on full display here, not to mention his use of succinct and powerful language. However, beyond those talents is another important piece to his fiction, and that is his voice. The atmosphere of this particular story, the connection we feel with its characters, is built entirely upon the believability of the narrator. Nicolay has a tremendous gift for replicating the thought patterns of his young protagonist and reporting back how the world looks to him. That is what I consider the true strength of this story, and why it was one of my favorite reads of 2015. Voice is paramount in this piece, and it is done beautifully.

            The need for the boy to see the world through the reels of his Viewmaster is no different than our need to view it through any other medium. In Do You Like to Look at Monsters?, Nicolay is asking a question he already knows the answer to, one we often ask ourselves yet feel shameful in admitting. The car accident we slow to see, hoping to spy a hint of red on the pavement; the ever-present calamity we see on the nightly news; the simultaneous repulsion and delight in viewing a grisly horror film - these things, if we choose to listen to them, reveal to us the primal inclinations we’ve possessed since birth. It no longer becomes a question of whether or not we “like” to look at monsters, but a matter of “needing” to. In that respect, there is another question hiding within the narrative of this piece, one possessing the same ambiguity and child-like wonder embedded in the tale itself, and that is:

Does looking at monsters, in turn, make monsters of us? 

Purchase Do You Like to Look at Monsters? on Kindle

Also available in physical and eBook form -  Ana Kai Tangata