CM . . . .
Volume V Number 10 . . . . January 15, 1999
I remember one time, about a week after I started, a corpse came down the chute looking a lot like this one. Harrison, the guy I was working with at the time, didn't seem to be too concerned. He put his mask on, but didn't bother being too careful about he rest of it. And wouldn't you know it, once he had the straps off, the grey-green corpse rose up off the slab and took a bite out of his neck. I can still remember the sound made by the zombie's bite - like someone biting into a crisp green apple. [From "But Somebody's Got to Do It"]Older teens, especially those who are graduates of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, should be directed to the 20 short stories in this fine collection from Edo van Belkom, a winner of the Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker Award Winner, the world's top honor for writers of dark-fantasy. Ranging in length from 6-22 pages, all but two of van Belkom's stories in Death Drives a Semi were previously published between 1989 and 1997, but virtually all of them appeared in publications that most teens would not normally meet. While the "spooky" or "unexplained" is encountered in all of the stories, it is always linked with the familiar, a combination which makes the stories' effects even more chilling. Love that continues beyond the grave is found in "The Basement" and "Mother and Child" while justice being attained beyond life is presented in "Afterlife" and "Scream String." Weight loss finds new meaning in "Lip-O-Suction" when a vampire seeks not blood, but fat, while another vampire in "Blood Count" succumbs to his blood lust in what is to be his final professional wrestling match. In the book's title story, an older man discovers that it is actually possible to cheat death, providing you can outdrive it. Those who have literally swept things "under the rug" might reconsider their practice after reading "The Rug" which has a delightfully spine tingling ending. With the misdirection skills of a magician, van Belkom has readers "looking" in one direction at the conclusion of "Rat Food," a story he co-wrote with David Nickle, only to surprise them with the unexpected. Ironically, the hunter become the hunted in "Roadkill" while it's the furrier who gives up his "pelt" in "The Cold." Going against the rules has fatal results in "Ice Bridge" and "No Kids Allowed." What happens when the brain's RAM is overloaded with sports trivia is explored in "Baseball Memories."
Van Belkom's writing style is most accessible to teens who will appreciate the cleverness of his stories' plots and the emotional responses he can evoke. Reluctant readers, especially males, should also be enticed by this genre of writing which is not always enthusiastically embraced by "establishment" adults. Like a whole box of cookies, the contents of which should be eaten over a number of days, Death Drives a Semi deserves to be savored slowly, but its contents are so delicious that it will likely be devoured in an orgy of reading.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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