We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone by Ronald Malfi
JournalStone (November 2017)
299 pages; $29.95 hardcover; $16.67 paperback; $9.95 e-book
Reviewed by Frank Michaels Errington
We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone, the debut short story collection from Ronald Malfi, is a bit of a mixed bag. Although the twenty shorts included do make for an enjoyable read, I have to say I much prefer Malfi’s recent novels to the tales included here. Little Girls made my top ten list in 2015, The Night Parade did the same in 2016, and Bone White is my favorite read so far in 2017.
“The Dinner Party”—The story of a paranoid housewife with an OMG ending. One of the best in the collection. Originally published at the Horror Drive-In.
“Learned Children”—Scarecrows creep me out and so do high school students. Both are featured prominently in this tale. Originally published at The Crow’s Caw.
“Knocking”—There’s an Edgar Allan Poe vibe to this story of strange tapping noise and the disappearance of a young wife.
I heard it again: a labored breathy sound, very much like respiration. My own breath seized in my throat. Then another sound: a dull thud. A knock. This was it—this was the sound Tara had heard coming from behind the closet door.
Originally published at Horrorworld.
“The Jumping Sharks of Dyer Island”—Jealousy will make a man do some strange and potentially deadly things. Originally published in Splatterpunk 2.
“The Glad Street Angel”—Malfi’s descriptive skills are highlighted in this gritty, hardcore story of a young addict just out of prison/rehab.
Carter Johnson is my father’s construction worker buddy, and he looks like someone stretched a pair of filthy coveralls over a city bus. His face resembles a burlap sack with eye-holes and his breath is an aromatic amalgamation of unfiltered cigarettes, peppered beef jerky, and steamed cabbage.
Originally published in Bare Bone #7.
“Under the Tutelage of Mr. Trueheart”—A lonely, middle school student befriends an elderly man who believes people are being “replaced.” Originally published in Dark Hallows.
“The House on Cottage Lane”—Living next door to a foster family can be challenging. Troubled kids coming and going. This is the story of one such kid, Oliver, and a Halloween never to be forgotten. A standout tale in this collection. Originally published by Cemetery Dance.
“Pembroke”—A wonderfully creepy story which takes place in a used bookstore.
“…the other night, when I was straightening up, I went to put the book on the rolling cart when it cut me.” Tom held up his right index finger, which was capped in an adhesive bandage. “A paper cut,” Pembroke marveled, recalling that odd splotch of blood on the book’s page. “Yes, of course,” said Tom, “only that’s not what I thought at the time. Because when it happened, Mr. Pembroke—and this is going to sound ridiculous, I know it—but when it happened, my first thought was that the book had bit me.”
Originally published in Dark Discoveries.
“In a Pet Shop”—A strange woman with a preoccupation with the birds in a pet shop.
“Couples Seeking Couples”— A story of the dangers of wife swapping. Originally published in 24:7 Magazines.
“The Good Father”—A wife’s infidelity. A father struggling alone with his two young children. Will she ever return and what would happen if she did? Originally published in Lamplight.
“The Housewarming”—A young, upwardly mobile couple moves into a new neighborhood and throws a housewarming party. As more and more neighbors show up time all but stands still in the Twilight Zone-like story. Originally published in Shadow Masters.
“I am thinking of the horror stories Martin used to tell me when I was younger and he’d return from weeks and sometimes months on the road. He would tell me of the chupacabra and of the way they drained the fluids from livestock and how, sometimes, they drained the fluids from people, too.”
Published in Bare Bones #11.
“All the Pretty Girls”—The tale of a very disturbed mind and a rotting 1962 Mercury Comet. Originally published in Bare Bones #8.
“Closing In”—Ever get the feeling the walls were closing in on you? Originally published in Dark Discoveries.
“Underneath”—A strange look at the writing process for a successful writer working under a pen name. Originally published in Lost Cause Quarterly.
“All Is Calm”—Dealing with the death of a spouse. A glimpse inside the mind of the survivor. Originally published in Bare Bones #10.
“Painstation”—A co-worker’s obsession leads to a strange club where the rules are simple and breaking them can be painful in so many ways.
He pushed against the door and it opened with little protest. Before him, a wooden staircase dipped into blackness. The stink of sulfur now accosted him, potent and unapologetic. Something else, too… Lilacs, he thought. Her perfume.
Originally published in Peep Show #3.
“Discussions Concerning the Ingestion of Living Insects”—A wonderfully disturbing tale of survival. Originally published in Sick: An Anthology of Illness.
“Then There is Boston”—Malfi closes out his collection with an original story of love and poetry in Boston.
We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone is a fine collection of speculative fiction and one I can readily recommend.