Love Bites by James Newman and Donn Gash. Artwork by Alex McVey. Review by Nickolas Cook
Love Bites was released as a signed and numbered (250) limited edition chapbook from Nocturne Press. The story is short and to the point. The cover art, as is usual with the talented Alex McVey, is some great looking black and white work.
On the surface, the story might seem to some readers to be a bit on the Penthouse Forum Letters side. In truth, it could be argued strongly that Love Bites really amounts to that and nothing more. But what makes this story more than a male wish fulfillment fantasy is the very dark streak that runs throughout, a primal sexual impulse, much like main character Jerry's desire to do a little wife swapping with a mysterious couple he's found on the Internet. Jerry's conscience extends about as far as his penis, when he secretly sets up a campout with the hot couple, and tricks his wife into coming along. But what he finds is something beyond human, beyond sex, beyond flesh and blood.
In a way, Love Bites can be viewed as a cautionary tale for all men who have ever fantasized about sex without consequence. It's short, as in 39 pages all told, so you get what you get. Which is Jerry panting after another woman, Jerry making facile justifications that he's really doing it for the sake of his marriage, and finally Jerry finding out that he screwed up. It's easy to understand Jerry's dilemma, but not easy to feel any sorrow for his plight. His selfishness should be his undoing; but it isn't. He comes off the better for it, so it's hard really to see this as a morality warning tale, such as the 80's slasher films, where sex without marriage and drug usage are punished by death. It's hard to like Jerry, because he is selfish and is willing to destroy his marriage for the sake of new sexual ground.
The problem I have with the story isn't the blatant sexuality of the piece—Lord knows, I'm a guy and I like my dirt to be dirty. And it's not the unlikable protagonist. No, the biggest problem I have is that two great writers don't get much of a chance to make this story shine. Love Bites is horror at its most minimal. The pace is quick, the characters a little cardboard (some of the dialogue is ripe, and needs a bit more editing), and there's the money shot—as they say—in the end. But this story could have easily been set on a much larger canvas, something that really tackled the male angst of sexual boredom, but without falling into the male menopause story. This theme is something that the horror genre should explore more. Perhaps given more time and room, both Newman and Gash may one day do just that, and see where the tale takes them.
Having said that, Newman and Gash are both becoming very well known in the field and this chapbook can only go up in value. From a collector standpoint, this may be one of those rare books in the future, something highly sought after. For the price, it's worth at least that investment in their future. These two guys aren't going to go away. Their work is getting better and better.
Nickolas Cook lives in the beautiful Southwestern desert with his wife and three pugs. He is the Fiction Moderator for the Shocklines Writing Group, the Chat Host for The Lost and The Damned Message Board and the Writers' Forum Moderator at ARWZ. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in several magazines. He collects jazz and blues, and is still trying to learn how to play the trumpet like his hero, Miles Davis. Visit Nickolas at his web site at The Horror and Jazz-Blues Review, his Myspace page, his blog, where you can read his free ongoing serial novella A Kind of Blue.