Written by: James Keen
“I believe wonderful things can come out of the most terrible events.” – Steve Rasnic Tem.
Steve Rasnic Tem is an author who’s been around for a few decades now, but much like Thomas Ligotti, doesn’t seem to have acquired the wider recognition that has been afforded other writers in the genre. It could be argued that one of the reasons for this is the subtle, decidedly restrained manner of the way in which both authors relate their tales. Both are examples of genre writers who have mined terrors that are less concerned with tedious cheap scares, instead creating narratives that ultimately leave the reader uneasy and profoundly disturbed. They also share similar interests in terms of the themes they cover. In this collection of nineteen tales Tem manages to confound, unnerve and befuddle expectations thereby providing a deeply resonant reading experience.
Leading off the collection is the literary equivalent of a smack in the face, “2pm: The Real Estate Agent Arrives” which lets the reader prepare themselves for what Tem has in store. The slow creeper, ‘Saguaro Night’ introduces some of the themes the author goes on to explore in other tales that of loneliness and disconnection, while also touching on the idea of creativity – those who express themselves artistically and those who allow their own creativity to corrupt their lives and poison their world-view.
Tem’s diction and pace – by and large- is impeccable but where the books begins to founder it’s where Tem gets repetitive in terms of narrative content and here and there the stories have little to offer other than to showcase the author’s philosophical intent. A few tales are flat-out predictable- seasoned readers of horror fiction will see the ‘kicker’ or ‘sting’ coming well before some of these tales gather momentum, but thankfully, Tem is a writer seemingly more concerned with getting under the reader’s skin than delivering Roald Dahl- style ‘twists in the tale’. The worst of these ‘offenders’ are ‘Rat Catcher’, ‘Blood Knot’ and ‘Squeezer’ and the Dario Argento-inspired ‘Sharp Edges’ which is simply a flat-out homage to the Italian giallo master and is notable only for its echoing of the imagery from those cinematic efforts. It’s certainly the weakest offering here, but it’s compellingly told non-the-less.
If you’ve not read Tem’s fiction before, ‘Ugly Behavior’ is a wonderful introduction to a writer who is unafraid to explore the darkest aspects of human behaviour, examine the existential terrors of modern life and leave you pondering the narrative sub-texts long after you finished reading. This is horror fiction that frightens and enthrals, from an author obviously delighting in taking story-telling risks.