When I first read Tokyo Decadence, I thought I’d be getting a tidal way of, well, decadence – I didn’t. When I first read 120 Days of Sodom, I expected to find the repulsion and disgust I was seeking – I didn’t. When I first read Bonding, I set my standards much lower – to my detriment.
This collection of short stories has more visceral horror than the previous mentioned combined. I’m not going to use the cliché ‘it’ll blow your balls off!’ or ‘It’ll stop you from falling asleep’ because it won’t. The reality is much more macabre.
A Tight Bond
The stories all carry a sense of horror, even if they aren’t all strictly of the genre, and offer plenty of splatterpunk flashes. There are, however, moments of fantastic dark humour and philosophical musings mixed within.
The Alumni Association, for example, shows Siebert’s brilliant range of writing by distancing itself from the horrors of the other stories and going for a more satirical note. This is welcomed in such a densely gruesome collection and serves to further showcase the promise of her embarking career.
Here, a university receptionist(s) is trying to contact the narrator to buy further courses. Yet, they won’t let up, going as far as scaring the former student with death threats. Moving state to state, job to job, there’s just no getting away from the callers once they know you’re already a buying customer. It really carries an overarching view of modern-day consumerism at its finest.
A few stories carry a surrealist, psychedelic tone, warping between reality and nightmare in swift, punchy sentences.
Bonding is incredibly well written, with Ammon being one of the biggest testaments.
Written as an interview narration, similar to Palahniuk’s Rant, it tells the story of a young boy who encounters several severe circumstances in his short life. Most are told from the perspectives of his worried parents, with occasional inference from those who met him.
Ammon is the only short story I’ve read that’s come close to Otsuichi’s Buried Alive in his collection Goth.
Equally, the final story, Every Day for the Rest of Your Life, is about a girl growing up and encountering terrible situation after the next. She is filled with a life of misery and a deep connection with atoning for her earlier cruelty towards animals. She then attempts to become one with those already caught up in the abattoir.
It’s intensely harrowing and far beyond anything else to that point – an excellent way to round out the assemblage.
In more independent releases, you often get sloppy paragraphs of description, badly formatted layouts, or inconsistent grammar. For me, that is one of the things that helped Bonding stand apart; the professionalism that’s gone into all aspects of bringing this together – from the bold title pages to the perfect formatting of the paragraphs.
The Male Gaze
All the stories take the perspective of males, which is an interesting point to consider. It’s widely known that most men aren’t willing to read books written by women for fear of not getting the subject matters; at least, that’s the consensus.
Horror may have a bit of skew because there’s much less talk about gender difficulties and more urgency placed on the scares – and that’s not to degrade or down talk the excellent examples of gender commentary within horror; Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, Repulsion (1965) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978): all of which are excellent examples of that.
This transference is often used to tell real-life stories and put them into a fictional context. By using opposite genders, it distances the author from the experiences.
I’m not sure this was considered before writing, but it certainly changes many of the details within stories, most prominent in Witches (which incorporates several schoolboys).
‘He sat in silence for hours, completely unaware of the time, turning the image of Charles Davis’ face over and over in his mind until exhaustion took hold and he passed out, still in his school clothes. He dreamt of drowning in shallow water, his face held into a puddle by an unseen, impossibly strong hand.’ IAs the tension surrounding the discovery of the missing boy grows, the schoolboys get more anxious (as the dream suggests), not out of fear of being caught, but through the concern of losing their new toy – the dead boy.
Where Murakami would jump straight to talking about prostitutes being bludgeoned and raped, Siebert takes the time to build the tension into a more meaningful approach. Shock for shock’s sake is dull – 120 Days of Sodom is evidence of that. So it’s refreshing to see a more alternative, surrealist approach to the material.
If you take anything away from this review, it’s that you absolutely must read this collection. Bonding is fun, it’s horrific, and most of all, it’s exciting in the same way speeding down the motorway at night with no lights on is – with the ending being just as grim.
An excellent collection of nightmares that Ryū Murakami could only dream of. Trust me when I say, ‘Maggie Siebert is an author worth reading.’