According to the first-person narrator of “Tsunami,” “But we can’t ever really understand just how dark people’s hearts truly are, how mysterious.” Truer words are never spoken in this stunning and affecting collection of short pieces, which feature betrayal, larceny, abuse, madness, and murder in roughly equal parts.
Bradford Morrow (rhymes with sorrow) makes no attempt to plumb the depths of these characters’ psyches, other than to portray their actions and emotions. There is a sad and frightening logic to the goings-on here. His plots and portraits are so compelling: we understand the young collector in the initial story, “The Hoarder,” when he kills his brother. After all, it’s self-defense, but why must he stalk the girlfriend and photograph her in secret? I was left fearing for the girl’s life at the end. We watch in horror as the psychotically misguided protagonist of “(Mis)Laid” mislays his mind, takes his lover hostage, and just as quickly loses his life to a bullet through the brain from a high-powered rifle. But Mr. Morrow, author of the resplendent “The Diviner’s Tale,” achieves his best effects when transcribing the inner dialogs of some of these truly sick puppies.
We follow and comprehend the twisted mental process of the mother who kills her husband in “Tsunami” – sort of – but the murder of her children in the bathtub is the only thing that fully explains the depth of her madness. In “Ellie’s Idea,” one story I found to be a little more comic, a young woman may have caused her dodgy husband some real difficulties when she calls his boss to apologize for a months-old slight. She certainly doesn’t smooth the waters of her family relationships, either. “The Enigma of Grover’s Mill” tells a marvelous old-fashioned sci-fi story, but has its own murder. Or does it? This one story features a rather upstanding and well-adjusted hero, but we’re given reason to doubt even this young man’s sanity.
Other stories contain other outrages, other macabre goings-on. Mr. Morrow achieves a fugue-like state in which we expect to be wowed by his dark inventiveness, and we are never disappointed. His stories all share a marvelous deadpan delivery of deadly effects – I recommend them very highly.