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In Our House: Tantalizing Tales of Terror Paperback – November 15, 2011
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About the Author
An accidental renaissance man, Peter A. Balaskas has been a chemist, theatre actor, camera technician for NBC Studios, freelance editor, voice-over artist, and most importantly, a lover of speculative fiction. His first book is the award-winning The Grandmaster, a supernatural thriller that takes place during the Holocaust. "In Our House: Tantalizing Tales of Terror" was featured at The New Short Fiction Series in Hollywood; previously showcased authors included critically-acclaimed Tod Goldberg, Aimee Bender and the legendary Ray Bradbury (whose work is a primary influence to Peter's writing). He often serves as a journalist for L.A. Splash Magazine (www.lasplash.com). Learn more about his work by visiting his website at www.peterabalaskas.com.
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Top customer reviews
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The first two of the nine tales, "Duet" and "Let Auld Acquaintances Be Forgot," are similar not in story line but that you get to thinking, "I know how this is going to end"--and then the story takes a turn. "Id" reminds me of Ray Bradbury's "Skeleton," about a man who freaks out when he suddenly realizes that he has a skeleton inside him. It's equally droll. "Wash Cycle" provides a sense of justice delayed for generations.
The title story with its gruesome and troubling characters is actually a parable, and here I slipped--I had to reread it to make it accessible to me. My three favorite stories, however, hit me hard, good and well. The title of "Blessed Are Those" is touching in itself; the story deals with two people who meet for a brief window of time outside their own encompassing doctrine and dogma. "Crossing the Styx," while very funny, is also instructive in a grisly and literal way about what happens to people who give too much of themselves. "Touched"--well, what if God was one of us....
Every so often, there's a slim thread connecting two or more stories: a major character in one is a passing detail in another, there's a place that characters from different stories visit, there's just a sense of something. There's either more coming our way from Balaskas or he's showing a microcosm of his own world. And all through the stories, you wonder if each hapless victim might have been plummeting through the supernatural or was just plain nertz. No matter--add this compendium of creeps to your own collection.
"Taking a deep breath, Iovino let his mind wander at the enormous
majesty of the crimson rock formations. Some appeared to jut and grow
directly from the earth, some were boulders that seemed to be arranged
and set on top of one another in obscure designs as though giant-sized
children were playing blocks with them. One of the rock formations was
white as snow, looking so out of place from the rest of the desert terrain.
His mind continued to drift, and Iovino began to see shapes among the
mountains. There were some which possessed jagged cylinder towers,
looking so much like stone cathedrals whose spires overlooked the rest of
In "Wash Cycle" we are introduced to a brutal crude Mafia boss Iovino who is mentioned as a minor character in the preceding and very different story "Id", a device which adds a continuity of theme throughout the collection but is not repeated in the other stories, despite all having connected motifs and ideas.
Iovino is both corrupt in mind and body. Old and dying he forcibly engages an elderly Navaho guide, Samuel who he both denigrates and envies, to take him to a sacred site in Colarado to bath in a secret spring which has mystical elements which can cleanse the body of disease. The guide indirectly warns him that only those who are pure within can be cured and remain intact but the Mafia boss ignores the warnings threatening the safety of Samuel's family. Like many stories within the horror genre good eventually triumphs over evil but to tell you how would ruin the story for the reader.
Landscape is as important as characterisation for many of the stories and this is a particular strength of this authors. "Crossing the Styx" is another example of this where the fresh mountain air contrasts sharply with the life of a young undertaker starting a new job in a very special undertaking business where it is accepted that for the first three days after demise ghosts wonder the corridors. The main character is advised by his boss to accept but to ignore these apparitions and to concentrate his skills of empathy on the needs of the living. Unfortunately the turn of events cause the hero to break these "professional boundaries" causing him to lose more than his job. Other themes include elements of Christian and pagan believes for example "Touched" which I describe at the end of this review and in the first story, paganism in "Duet" where the Greek figure of the artists muse appears as an alien three dimensional tangible being, and not, we are lead to believe as a allegorical figure of the writer protagonists imagination. In this story to we get treated to Balaskas's skill as a horror poet, which comes directly from the traditions of Poe and Lovecraft.
All the stories with only two exceptions hold surprises and Balaskas is a master of the twist in the tail of the plot. Once the reader realises this it is only a test to see when the twist will take place rather than if. And very few of his plot lines are predictable.
However there were one or two disappointments. The last two stories "In His House" where a seemingly normal central character is trapped as a tenant among a group of horrific mutants, strikingly similar to the X Men in both character and powers, is unoriginal and almost out of control in terms of narrative and plot. The final story "Touched" is also weak by comparison, seeing God transformed into a sixty year old woman visiting Earth, and the Angel Gabriel portrayed as a beautiful young biker is a silly idea and Balaskas does not do himself favours by including these stories in an otherwise great collection.
Duet has a poet literally working with his muse. Id has a lawyer fighting for control of his body with a second identity. Crossing the Styx shows a funeral director using his gift for empathy in compassionate and then shocking ways. And then In His House gives us a man trapped in a real freak show, trying to find his way back to a world he only has the faintest memories of. All of these stories explore their characters psyches in different and intriguing ways, and all come highly recommended.
That's not to say that every story focuses inward. There are some classic, visceral jolts to be had, such as Let Auld Acquaintances Be Forgot, which takes the ticking bomb premise and spins it on its head. And Wash Cycle, about a mob boss looking to magic to keep him from dying, felt like a great Twilight Zone episode.
All in all, a solid group of stories, and I'm eager to see what Balaskas does next. Good job!