INTERVALS OF HORRIBLE SANITY
Medium Rare Books Publishing / 183 pages / August 2003
It isn’t often that a collection reveals its brilliance so quickly, but Intervals of Horrible Sanity trumpets Michelle Scalise’s unique talent from the intense, harrowing first story and maintains its unbreakable hold until the last page. Even after closing the book, the resonances of the tales never quite let go. Whether violent, chilling, unsettling, or shocking, each selection earns its right to be included; there is no filler here, only the “good stuff.”
“Three Floors Down We Cleanse The Soul” forces readers to inhabit the dismal world of Rebel, a relative who is manipulated — in the way that only those who supposedly love you can — to care for a human vegetable, a lump of flesh that should have died long ago, but his heart has not gotten the message to stop beating. In between stomach-churning duties in the sick room, she shares the house with her uncle’s mentally unstable family and a deadweight of secrets and lies that ensnares all who enter. But, the most closely-held secrets are too powerful to contain and, when they slip out, the devastation is total. Rebel’s voice is a twisted lullaby, haunting the reader long after the particulars of the story are lost to memory.
Quick, sharp shocks await in many of the selections — deceptively brief, but packing a full load of unpleasant surprises. “The Night Around Me Falling,” “Just Someone Her Mother Might Know,” and “Where Death Sends Here” are a trio that Rod Serling would probably have jumped on in an instant. Shocks of a more scandalous bent lay their horror out in sexual obsessions and acts that manage to leave “normal” paraphilias far behind. “Wages of Faith” and “Blunting the Fine Point of Pain” represent these particular horrors and earn my extremely rare NC-17 rating which hasn’t cropped up in quite awhile.
More than the plots in this collection make it one of the truly great books of 2003; Scalise has a gift for creating unforgettable characters. Seth Taylor, Cynthi James, Redmond, and Sister Theresa — all saddled with burdens too heavy for any to carry more than a few staggering steps. The solutions they find and how much they believe they can bear say more about their nature than any standard method of description could ever provide. Weak, kind, disturbed, or luckless, they shoulder the weight of Scalise’s stories, even as it grinds them down, the unwanted obligation that haunts them.
Haunting. Rarely does one word so perfectly describe an author’s work. But, most authors are not Michelle Scalise. And the emotional impact of short stories and poems is seldom as intense as in Intervals of Horrible Sanity. Scalise brings to life — or death — a level that is sometimes too painful to look at directly, but which we have always suspected, when we have allowed ourselves to conceive, before we pushed such thoughts away. Far, far away.