Thursday, 14 July 2011

Book Review : Mental Shrillness - Todd Russell (2011)

The cemetery is full of the reputations of once credible reviewers, dig deeper and you will always find the same causes of death....

The first of these most fatal threats is FREE SHIT. Thats right, kids. At some point you'll be asked personally by a writer/director/actor to have a look at their work and let the world know what you think. If your a big boy like that Harry Knowles guy, then that means your getting flown to Hollywood and having your ass kissed till its shiny red, all in a concerted effort to have you sell out your dignity in the name of FREE SHIT. If your a small time alley cat like me, its less of an issue. The issue a guy like me has is every bit as dangerous, and its known, of course, as COMPASSION.

You see, for a guy like me, selling out is never an option, but that doesn't mean I like hurting peoples feelings either. I hate having to write a bad review, but only in certain instances. For example, if Micheal Bay releases some old bullshit with a cat faced 3Ft tall Fred Kruger, I'm happy to tear it apart, but if some truly hardworking horror fans release a work an put their heart a souls into it, I absolutely detest being the bad guy. The last thing these people need is another shitty review surfacing online and casting shadows over there dreams. I try to find the good where I can, yet often I have no choice but to tear em apart. It sucks, frankly, but I have to be true to myself also. And if someone is taking the piss, and has no artistic merit in there work, low budget or not, I'll have a go. (See my MASK MAKER review for example).

So, when Todd Russell sent me his collection of short stories, MENTAL SHRILLNESS, I found myself in a dilemma.This was personal, but I'd be damned if I was gonna lie and say I enjoyed it, if his work had nothing to offer. As a writer myself, I know the sheer unrelenting terror of having your work exposed, and would hate to have to stay true to my guns if it sank. Though stay true I would and I'd fire till the chamber went 'click'.

Luckily, my dilemma was short lived. MENTAL SHRILLNESS is really pretty excellent.

MENTAL SHRILLNESS is a very brief, very concise collection of short tales. Each one representing a particular human frailty, in a very twisted way. The tales really do read as vignettes of the damned. Tales quickly spat out from the tormented souls, and sent echoing down the cold marble walls, of Todd's 'Mental Shrillness Ward'. The tales are short and to the point, with zero fat. Any reader who still appreciated the short form will understand the joy of a short story that understands exactly what it is, and Todd has managed to bottle that fire and condense it, squeezing a hell of a lot of horror into very little space. One tale apart, these little gems are extremely short, clocking in at two to three pages sometimes. This is both a blessing and a curse.

See, there are some very weighty themes here. Love, sexual desire, broken hearts, betrayal, and repression of memories, and all are explored from a very unique standpoint. I'm a long time horror reader, and I found myself very surprised and disturbed by some of the imagery and ideas Todd expresses through his cavalcade of lunatic confessions. The downside of this, for me, was that I found his contrasts and insights so fascinating, I was rarely ready to walk away from them when the tale ended. the author is really onto something here.

Two tales in particular are still running around in my head as I write this. The second tale, PAINS IN THE GLASS is very disturbing, and reads quite unlike anything Ive come across. A study of pain, physical and emotional, and loaded with grisly and tragic imagery. And the fourth tale, FALLING IN BOBBIT is, or should be, something of a classic, taking devotion and sexual hunger to their utmost extremes. Its disgusted, disturbed and strangely eager with itself, much like the insane woman into who's diary we are privy too as we read. Great stuff. And the other tales are great too. DEATH WARMED OVER is a blackly comic look at sexual gratification gone all the way south, DUELLING EYES is a rapid fire glimpse at what appears to be the final moments of a doctors long battle with mental illness, and MEMORIAL DAY DESCENT, the opening tale, gives us a grim look at post traumatic stress, and the very real ghosts of our pasts.  And the final, and longest tale, THE ILLUSION, proves that Russell has the chops to stretch his grim visions into more sizable lengths, as he spins a story of dark magic, wishful thinking, and the nature of illusion. Its a fitting finale, as the entire collection often feels like a carnival ride through half seen mirages.

At the same time, the length of the stories can also be seen as a strength. For so many insights and horrors to find there way into such a short work is pretty amazing, and for any budding horror writers out there, it should be very inspiring also. And that the author seems to have the self control to leave his children alone is commendable, when so many 'short stories' are long winded and often feel like a novel in themselves. These tales make for a great quick read, and unlike many longer stories, they tend to stick with you, as the readers input is vital in all these stories. Russell understands that you have a working brain, and expects you to use it. I can only agree with that sentiment. The reader implicit in the tales overall meaning, and thats just as it should be for this type of work.

MENTAL SHRILLNESS is a quick dive into some very dark waters, and is one exploration worth taking. Short on length and long on substance, its a perfect book for those looking to be horrified in rapid fashion. I want more of what Todd Russell has to offer. Check this one out.

7.5  Shock Therapies out of 10

(AUTHORS NOTE : MENTAL SHRILLNESS is available as an E-Book and can be purchased at a very fair price right here. Great for all you tech-head horror fans on the move! You can also check out Todds website here.)


  1. Another excellent review that makes a lot of great points about us small print/time writers, authors, and film-makers in which we try and survive in a media filled with people who simply just don't care.

    It's good to read a review that discusses all the good and bad merits of a writer's work whether it be good or bad.

  2. Thanks, Kevin. your support means a lot. Its nice to be able to explore themes when you can. I think reviews should be more than simply '5/10', must see, etc.x

  3. Great review, Kyle. I am primarily a novel writer but have been adding a lot of short stories to my offerings, and flash fiction as well. They are a lot of fun to write and I believe a lot of readers enjoy being able to read an entire story at a sitting. But they must be good, and it sounds like Todd Russell has hit the mark.

    Thank you once more.