Stories of the absurd and obscene flirt with fantasy, science fiction and even, occasionally, reality—in a collection made up of Frost’s published work since the late 1980s.
Though some pieces are just passable or merely workmanlike, there are a few gems here worth highlighting. In “A Day in the Life of Justin Argento Morrel,” for instance, Frost demonstrates that he can put together an excellent lost-in-space scenario and give it a psychosexual kick, while “Touring Jesusworld”—about an unpopular theme park built by a man desperate to educate people about the factual inaccuracies of their faith—has the feel of an angry young Harlan Ellison (few higher compliments). With “Collecting Dust,” about the slow and horrific dissolution of a middle-class family, Frost offers an impressive portrait of suburban ennui that’s almost more pungently haunting in its hewing to strict reality than any of his more outré pieces. Frost can be quite funny, but when he tries too hard for black comedy, the strain shows, as with “The Girlfriends of Dorian Gray.” One of the star turns, however, is the title story, a mix of a love of early jazz with Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. The result is a steamy gothic about a 1920s plantation owner who, with a penchant for branding blacks caught unawares, gets a sweet and strange sort of revenge visited upon him in the form of a new type of music and some massive musical instruments (read to believe). Meanwhile, Frost occasionally gets lost in the baffling twists and turns of his invented realities, but his smart sense of history (cunningly deployed in several pieces) and unpretentious storytelling end up carrying the day.
From jazz greats to Jesus: overall, a rare fantasy collection that has far more highs than lows.