THE BARRENS and OTHERS
F. Paul Wilson
Forge / 384 pages / 1 Decenber 2000
In the realm of big-name authors, few are as hard to pin down as F. Paul Wilson. The man is all over the genre map, refusing to be restricted to a single classification or style. That may be the very reason his work is so entertaining; you get a grab bag of personalities, all with an equal and admirable amount of talent. In The Barrens and Others, Wilson has chosen the worlds of crime and mystery, with an unhealthy dose of the supernatural. The result is a collection unlike any other on the market today.
Fans of the invincible Repairman Jack (The Tomb, Legacies) should be delighted with his return in “A Day In The Life.” Jack is back doing what he does best: killing and maiming the bad guys, all in the name of justice and cash. It’s got tension, elaborate scheming, and split-second timing. You know, a Repairman Jack story.
The title story and several others have the added attraction of being set in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. If you, too, went to school in Florida, you have no idea of the geography of this or any country; certainly, you never pictured an area like the Barrens in New Jersey. Aside from being a fascinating and horrifying tale of obsession and the unexplainable, it provides one of the most fascinating locales in literature. Anyone want to take a run out there, just to see if we make it back alive?
Comic aficionados will appreciate the forays into Batman and Dick Tracy territories. Two of the stories present a twist on the usual hero fodder.
In the just plain gross-out category, “Topsy” comes in an unquestioned first. Let’s just say it starts out with a man hospitalized for morbid obesity and goes onto even greater morbidity from there. A close second in the category is a decidedly more touching tale of the shaping of a monster. “Faces” takes a different angle on the serial killer story, that actually coaxes pity for the killer out of the reader. “Pelts,” a sickening little jaunt into the fur trade, is presented in short story and screenplay formats, proving that not all fiction makes for good drama.
A better and bittersweet script finishes out The Barrens and Others with an episode of Tales From The Darkside. Some readers may have caught the original airing of “Glim-Glim” in the last week of January 1989. What appeared as the finished product was not the version Wilson envisioned; the confines of television intervened. The script included in this collection is the untouched, genuine article. It’s a twist of a tale that would have made Rod Serling proud, and a fitting close to the anthology. Plus, it will hit the stores at the most appropriate time of the year, ushering in that holiday spirit.
Because the stories in The Barrens and Others cover such a wide spectrum of material, it is quite possible that not every story will be for every reader. On the other hand, not a one wouldn’t lessen the book’s impact by its absence.