Neil Newton: Blogger and author of the novel “The Railroad” on Amazon.com
This story is part of an international collection of short stories with the appropriate title “Twisted Tails”. I approached this story with some apprehension, not being a fan of horror. I was pleasantly surprised. One of the very strong aspects of the story that makes it hang together as a true short story, rather than the common splatter fare featuring serial killers, is the portrayal of the main character, Gaunt Thibedeaux, as a highly developed human being. Adding to this is another dimension that makes the character authentic: a small, timeless, sleepy town, full of good American values that is the backdrop for Gaunt’s less than American activities.
Gaunt begins life in less than ideal circumstances. Mother is a lonely alcoholic who spreads the bounty of her misery as much as possible. Gaunt, like many children, is a bed wetter. Mother does her best to make Gaunt feel responsible for his problem, calling his a “pissy baby” and throwing his urine soaked sheets in his face. In the afternoon, Gaunt is met by the sight of his superman sheets hanging conspicuously from the clothesline on the front lawn.
The day that Gaunt’s mother is found dead on the kitchen floor, his life improves as he’s sent to live with his relatives. Despite the reprieve from his awful circumstances, Gaunt retains some of the values he inherited from his mother. It is not long before those values manifest themselves as conspicuously as his superman sheets on his mother’s front lawn.
What Gaunt takes from his mother is an intolerance for weakness. It works its way into his psyche until he no longer knows why it’s there. We first see the consequences of his mother’s upbringing when he encounters a girl at school who is consistently and cruelly bullied. One hot, sunny day, Gaunt spies the girls as she goes by, being hounded by bullies. As she runs away, hiding beneath a river bridge, Gaunt follows. When he catches up with her he is uncommonly curious as to why she allowed the bullies to abuse her.
He asks her once. And by the second time he asks her he smashes a bottle of soda against the side of her head.
It will not surprise anyone that Gaunt continues his important Darwinian task of weeding out the weak. That is the nature of a serial killer. Another unique element of this story and one that makes him fascinating is that the story follows him throughout his life, making him more than a one dimensional character as many serial killers are. While disturbing and macabre, Gaunt Thibedeaux is, while not a sympathetic character, one whose fate becomes important to us, beyond the initial base thrill of his awful acts.
This is an excellently written story, underpinned by an epic small town ghost story feeling; you can easily see future inhabitants of his small town telling the story of Gaunt Thibedeaux around the fire, long after his death.
I will point out, for the sake of transparency, that the author of this story is my wife. I have always been a fan of her writing, since I met her. I recommend this story and all her writing to readers who want to read quality fiction. (That just bought me at least several days of peace .)