The first Kristopher Triana story I read involved a home invasion. The violence was so over the top that I still remember where I was when I read it. I presumed that Triana was an extreme horror one-trick pony… a blood and guts conjurer whose sole aim was to make the reader cringe at the brutality of his characters’ actions. Blood Relations, Triana’s family-themed (but not family-friendly) collection of short horror stories, proved me wrong.
Yes, there are the gruesome, flesh-mangling, bone-crunching, and sexually depraved entries. “Womb”, for instance, involves an incestuous brother and sister using the bodies of murder victims to recreate the place they felt safest. In “Jailbait Frankenstein”, a Lolita tale-turned-horror story, a man in his forties who rationalises his attraction to underage girls learns a painful lesson. He grows smitten with a teenage girl who’s a “butterface”, meaning beautiful in every way but her face. Her repulsive facial appearance becomes an embodiment of his shameful attraction.
The collection, however, also features less graphic though equally entertaining stories, such as the Steven Kingesque “We All Scream”, which comments on children’s need for immediate gratification. This one puts a new spin on the dangerous ice cream truck trope by offering a much subtler and creepier scenario. Children who hear the ice cream truck playing “Turkey in the Straw” know it’s time to return home immediately. Things get out of hand when little Tommy decides to flout that warning and approach the truck.
Some stories involve characters unearthing shocking secrets about their relatives. In “My Name Is Chad”, for instance, a young man mourning the death of his mother finds disturbing video footage that reveals something about him and his deceased sister. “Kin” is a country bumpkin piece in which a West Virginia family makes an awful discovery about a young man in the family.
“The Solution”, about a lusty mother and apathetic daughter who use sexuality to extract something from teenage boys, offers such an exaggerated take on the mother’s libido that it is at times laugh-out-loud funny. Look for the hilariously overindulgent similes and metaphors in which Triana compares the sounds the mother makes in the throes of ecstasy to those of animals.
The details that Triana offers in “The Solution” speak to his skill as a writer – the smells of tobacco and microwave pizza within the mother’s home, for example, or her “layer of trashy desperation” that resembles bacon grease.
Another curious element within the story is the boy the teenage protagonist sees glued to the TV each time he enters the mother’s home. The boy watches horrific programs like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or autopsies in which a mortician scoops brains from a corpse. Though he plays no major role, the boy helps set the mood for the oddities the protagonist encounters.
Did you think those boys in Lord of the Flies had a tough time? Maybe you thought the kids in The Hunger Games were violent? Read “Dog Years”, a story both bloody and nostalgic, and you’ll reconsider both. All the adults are gone, and now gangs of children roam the streets. They are afflicted by a disease that makes their lifespans comparable to those of dogs. Kids in their late teens are in the throes of dementia. Sixteen-year-old narrator Skye reflects on her survivalist father whose advice on female empowerment proves valuable. During one of the more poignant scenes, the children, forced to exist in a world where social media is absent, reflect on the things they miss. Chapstick, for instance.
When one character in Blood Relations enters a basement to discover a relative doing something sickening to another human being, her response is, “Hey.” The reader will find several such instances of indifference to human suffering within this collection, but the reader will also experience a wide range of the emotions that make us human.—Douglas J. Ogurek *****