By Gabino Iglesias
Word Riot Press, June 2013
Finding a writer whose work can’t be categorized under a single genre is relatively easy. However, finding an author whose writing is outstanding in a plethora of genres is a much harder task. Nick Antosca belongs to the second group, and The Girlfriend Game, his first collection of short fiction, is a stunning book that proves Antosca is one of the bravest and most original voices in contemporary literary fiction.
There are a few cohesive elements at work in Antosca’s fiction. Darkness, honesty, tension, sex, fear, and shock are almost always present in the dozen stories that make up The Girlfriend Game. These elements are accompanied by a multiplicity of others and slathered with strangeness. The result is a collection full of gems that has something to offer readers regardless of their preferred genre.
The collection kicks off with “Rat Beast,” a tale about a young boy who has trouble in school when ennui locks him into a perpetual state of carelessness and inaction. A funny and sharp take on depression, the story is an uncanny read that sets the mood for the narratives that follow.
The second story, “The Girlfriend Game,” is about a couple who flirts with other people, and it as edgy and full of anxiety as it is amusing. The game is fun for both, until one night the girlfriend is bent on showing just how adventurous and unpredictable she can be. A story about jealousy, love, and self-esteem, this is a standout in a collection with no throwaways.
“Soon You Will Be Gone and Possibly Eaten” is first-person narration horror story that describes an alien invasion, but one in which the extraterrestrials “invite” their abductees instead of physically taking them against their will. A critique of beauty canons, this one is as sharp as it scary:
Another thing happened about an hour later, and that was on the news too. They began finding bodies, naked. One or two around some of the obelisks—these were a few of the people who had been taken in the night. Their head had been half-eaten.
Equally horrific is “Amphibian,” a wonderful piece in which Antosca steps into Lovecraftian territory to describe the inexplicable transformation of a mother into an amphibian while her slacker son looks on, powerless and confused:
Her neck had sunk into her torso, and her head could not move from side to side. She was very shiny. Her torso had continued to bloat, and her arms were flattening out strangely, the fingers fusing. She looked like some kind of sea creature.
There are no weak stories in The Girlfriend Game. The dozen narratives presented have previously appeared in magazines and literary journals, which explains the polished feel of each piece and the unvarying degree of quality. Antosca is a talented author who puts his own slightly sinister twist on short fiction.