I asked Dunbar which book he'd recommend as a starting point for readers new to his work. He didn't hesitate in suggesting Martyrs & Monsters
. After reading it myself, I understand his enthusiasm. Martyrs & Monsters
is absolutely beautiful.
The diversity of the stories in this collection is impressive. There's humor and deep despair, isolation and codependent relationships. Monsters live here, as do swamp dwellers, punk rockers, zombies, hoarders, forced laborers, battlefield scavengers, space travelers, and not-so-secret lovers. But alongside this diversity is the consistent theme of water as thirst quencher, killer, and concealer of the unknown. And there's consistency in Dunbar's picture perfect setting of situation and place. Check out the beginning of "Are We Dead Yet?":
"Wind rasped along the pavement like a saw striking bone. Soundless as a ghost, Tim passed through shadows so dense they made him feel part of the night. Pausing to claw grit from his eyes, he peered at trees touched by random flickers. Thickly bent as ancient slaves, they heaved through concrete to engulf encircling iron rails."
And the picturesque language in "Mal de Mer" isn't too shabby either: "Waves slid with an oily crunch; each grating hiss marked the extinguishment of time she could never regain. Soon there'd be no time left. None." Examples of Dunbar's skillful use of language can be found throughout Martyrs & Monsters
I appreciate that Dunbar doesn't fill in all the blanks. He left room for my imagination to run wild. And is there anyone better at saying more with one well placed word or sentence? "High Rise" ends with four words that sent my mind into contortions, the simple sentence "Motherhood was like that." In "Explanation", Dunbar takes only one closing word - "Psycho" - to get me cranking through various scenarios for what exactly happened. I loved it!
I cannot recommend Martyrs & Monsters
highly enough. It's creepy, scary, beautiful in the grotesque sense, and extremely well written. My personal favorites are "Getting Wet", "Gray Soil", "Mal de Mer" (the perfect short story?), "Red Soil", and "Explanations". Give it a try!