Sometimes the thing that truly terrifies us is the inner workings of our own mind. Our thoughts and motivations, how they’ve been corrupted us and those around us, or vice versa. Bones Are Made to Be Broken is a short story collection full of characters who are their own worst enemy, and author Paul Michael Anderson uses the fuel of these jaded souls for the horror unfolding on the pages.
Bones Are Made to Be Broken is a hefty short story collection (about 440 pages in print), released by Dark Regions Press on October 18th, 2016. It’s comprised of horror and sci-fi tales, and the author’s introduction paints a pretty distinct picture of the journey;
“The rage, despair, anticipation, hope. They are mine—mined from some instance or circumstance, thrown through my mental blender and sprinkled over the plot of some story, or imbued within some character’s response to a situation. These aren’t my scars, but they could be.”
Each story has a dialogue of what’s happening in the story, and then another dialogue that’s happening inside the mind of a character. Anderson proves extremely adept with this technique, threading the two conversations together and knowing when to intertwine them.
Anderson’s prose is strong, and there are some really inventive descriptions throughout the book I hadn’t come across before. I found the collection mostly varied for me between good to great, with just one or two stories that I couldn’t really get into. There’s also a nice variety of settings and conflicts throughout Bones while still strongly representing the core values expressed in the introduction I mentioned above.
Here’s a little summary of the stories in this collection:
- CRAWLING BACK TO YOU
- The first entry, and possibly my favorite (I’m a sucker for grim vampire tales). A tired woman’s existence is bound to a vampire prone to…”letting loose.” They meet their match in a cop with a religious medallion of unknown power who wants to avenge his brother. Anderson’s descriptive gore in this deranged tale was absolutely terrific.
- SURVIVOR’S DEBT
- A man’s best friend is haunted by the deaths of his fellow soldiers back in the war. What he first suspects is the projection of his friend’s guilt for surviving turns into…something else, and something possibly sinister.
- BABY GROWS A CONSCIENCE
- A Saw or Black Mirror-type set-up; guy wakes up with no recent memory, has a card that reads “KILL THEM ALL AND SURVIVE.” Hi-jinx ensue. I found the writing to be very good but I did think the ending was a bit flat.
- A NICE TOWN WITH VERY CLEAN STREETS
- A post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale of a team that faces unknown terrors of the beyond. A very good example of show/don’t tell world-building, effortlessly building the setting during the action. Good stuff.
- THE DOORWAY MAN
- Limitless on meth; Jake meets “The Doorway Man” at a party and receives a gel tab that is said to open “doorways.” After taking the tab, he becomes more efficient than ever, before the tab loses its luster. Jake’s life becomes consumed by The Doorway Man, and he sprawls his way into madness.
- LOVE SONG FOR THE REJECTED
- Evelyn has always had a chunk of rainbow glass on her heart, but with each relationship that comes to an end, a bit of color is drained from the glass. This is the story of how Evie’s rainbow glass loses all of its color, and what happens when the chunk on her heart is nothing but black.
- THE UNIVERSE IS DYING
- A Twilight-Zone styled vibe here; a Hollywood screenwriter has his life stripped away as the past finally catches up with him, and forces him to deal with the realities of life and see through the bullshit he has become so accustomed to with his lifestyle.
- SURVIVING THE RIVER STYX
- A cruise’s food supply is sabotaged, leading those who eat it to go into a wild and violent frenzy. A story carried strongly by its inept MC and his inner dialogue, probably my favorite MC in the collection.
- THE AGONIZING GUILT OF RELIEF
- Ben’s younger brother Jude is a punching bag, misused and abused by their father and really anyone who comes across his naive, happy-go-lucky path. Ben does what he can to protect his brother who doesn’t know any better, can’t understand what’s happening to him, but what about the day that Jude can’t be saved?
- REFLECTING THE HEART’S DESIRE
- A woman overly worked and stressed, depressed about the lack of happiness in her life and a recent failed romance, finds a way to see into other worlds and a different existence she might have. I must admit this one was my least favorite of the collection, just couldn’t really get into the premise and found it to be generally underwhelming.
- TO TOUCH THE DEAD
- A memory coordinator struggles with his new position, finding society has become skewed that victims aren’t being properly “remembered,” wanting to sacrifice as much as he can to let these people know they have not been forgotten.
- IN THE NOTHING – SPACE, I AM WHAT YOU MADE ME
- Perhaps the most out-there tale of the collection, is it man vs. technology, man vs. himself, or man vs…something else? Hard to know because Alan’s having quite the breakdown…
- BONES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN
- The flagship story of the collection, a grim and haunting novella that works the slow burn. A struggling single-mother who self-harms becomes wrapped up in group meetings that center themselves on embracing and accepting the pain of the past. Just when she thinks she’s getting better, strange happenings and a custody lawsuit bring everything crashing down. A very nice summation of the author’s mantra here, and one of the real highlights of the book.
- ALL THAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND
- Perhaps the second “feature” story behind the title tale, as I believe this one is relatively close to novella status. Cassie lost her baby and things with Danny and her life in general have gone downhill. When her and Danny experience visions of a life where they still have their child, these visions bleeding into their own life, the built-up tension and pain is forced to a very dramatic head.
Overall, I definitely recommend Bones Are Made to Be Broken to anyone who enjoys psychological horror and sci-fi. It’s that kind of setting and atmosphere over shock n’ awe, and of course, if you’re not a fan of inner thoughts/dialogue, then this probably isn’t for you.
Bones Are Made to Be Broken is a versatile collection of horror and terrors of the mind, and Paul Michael Anderson shows a mastery of the concepts that require one to pull it off. He’s definitely made it to my watch-list for future stories.
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