The modern day monster genre suffers from a dearth of creativity that leaves most stories feeling like a scene from “The Monster Squad”. Vampires? Garlic. Werewolf? Silver. Blue haired land whale? Crime statistics and logic. Or they feature protagonists who feel flatly perfect and impregnable. Or they take place on the streets of another bland city on another bland night.
So it was with considerable pleasure that I read Alexandru Constantin’s Kakerlacs, in the latest issue of StoryHack. His body-snatcher style villains lack an obvious weakness that the reader can trust will save the day. The story opens with the small town drama that grounds the events in a reality and reminds the reader that the protagonist has a lot of other issues to deal with, even if he survives his encounter with the titular threat. Best of all, the action takes place in a dusty desert one-stoplight town just a few minutes past the very edge of the LA megalopolis. It’s a remote setting, and one you don’t see very often these days, and one that helps reinforce the isolation and vulnerability of the victims that pile up along the way.
Bold choices like that are par for the course with Constantin. His “Tiger in the Garden” – the cover feature for the StoryHack Issue Zero – made me sit up and take notice of his talent. He writes with an unabashed strength and ZFG masculine attitude that runs completely at odds with the passive and feminine stylings that have come to dominate the market these days. It’s not a forced and artificial scenery-chewing approach to what drives men to risk life and limb for people they don’t even really like all that much. His protagonists have a natural ebb and flow to their inner turmoil, a turmoil that most often has more to do with choosing between how best to use his talents to serve others than the choice between serving himself or others.
Take this brief passage:
Back in his truck, he sat in the unlit cab squeezing the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white. Memories he didn’t want rushed through his mind. Thoughts he’d left behind when he left so many years ago. Coming back here had been a mistake.
In less competent hands, our protagonist would be considering running for the hills. Here, he’s a strong man wrestling with his natural inclinations to solve his problems through the judicious application of heavy rocks to stubborn heads. This internal battle for control over one’s emotions, the struggle to fight back smart instead of fast and dumb, just doesn’t show up in enough fiction these days. It’s one of the more obvious aspects of the strength – in the physical and emotional sense rather than the qualitative sense – of Constantin’s writing.
His writing reminds me a lot of Schuyler Hernstrom, but where Hernstrom evokes the mythic and the epic tales of yesterday with soaring language and wide-ranging philosophical asides, Constantin kicks down the doors of contemporary literature stylings with a plain spoken and two fisted prose that brooks no admission nor apology for its raw power and ability to tap deep into what makes a man tick.
Kakerlacs is a great read with a great protagonist, a disgusting antagonist, and an dry and dusty setting as oppressive as the desert sun at noon-time. Once again, I’m impressed by the people that Bryce has chose to surround me with, and can only trust his judgement that I belong on the page next to Constantin.