cover image Things Left Behind

Things Left Behind

Gary A. Braunbeck. I D I Publications, $35 (570pp) ISBN 978-1-881475-21-7

When a character in this collection of 40 potent fantasies calls ""sabotage and subversion""... the goals of my life, and my stories,"" he might well be speaking for the author. Braunbeck, in his fiction debut, shows a talent for getting under the skins of seemingly ordinary people and fleshing out their dreams and fears. In ""The Sisterhood of Plain-Faced Women,"" a homely woman who has always longed to be beautiful is given the power to steal other women's body parts. A machinist identifies so closely with his job in ""Union Dues"" that he becomes a physical extension of his tools. The protagonist of ""Dead Hearts and Rag Dolls"" is haunted by the specter of a floppy doll that embodies her morbid concern with victims of Alzheimer's disease. Braunbeck shows a sure hand when painting characters in extremis, even when the characters are inhuman or supernatural, like the extraterrestrials who live the life of the homeless in ""In Hollow Houses"" or the werewolf whose memories of sexual abuse force him to reject his human side in ""Some Touch of Pity."" Although most of these stories and prose fragments are set in a twilight zone where the supernatural and the psychologically skewed converge, the best selection has no fantasy element: ""Searching for Survivors"" develops its narrator's efforts to understand why he was spared death by a mass murderer into a moving reflection on the fragility of life. Combining physical horror with philosophical insight, evoking influences as varied as Harlan Ellison, James Dickey and the films of Sam Peckinpah, Braunbeck's fiction stirs the mind as it chills the marrow. (Aug.) FYI: Published only in a signed, limited edition.