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Review by
Greg Verdino
John R. Platt
Medium Rare Books

When the thick white envelope from Medium Rare Books arrived in the mail, I knew it held my copy of John R. Platt's DIE LAUGHING. When I received a second thick white (and suspiciously familiar) package from Medium Rare I was puzzled to find a second copy of DIE LAUGHING inside. Hmmm . . .

For all I know, I ordered the book twice. Regardless, I kept one and actually threw away the second copy. This is something I rarely do, but do I actually need two of them?
Garbage day came and went, a passing that I celebrated by accidentally overturning a full bottle of Poland Spring water onto my one remaining copy of
DIE LAUGHING. The book is waterlogged and somewhat worse for wear, although once it dried out I was certainly able to read it.

So there you have it - I could have done with two copies after all.

None of this would seem particularly relevant to this review, were it not for the fact that it sounds like the set up for one of Platt's darkly humorous tales.

DIE LAUGHING collects 34 of John Platt's pieces-some previously published, others new to this collection-ranging from short stories to short-shorts to poetry. His subjects are as varied as the forms he uses to tell their tales. Killers, stalkers and other decidedly human psychopaths sit alongside zombies, witches, ghosts and demons. There are even several appearances by the Grim Reaper himself, as Death (with a capital D) is a recurring character in Platt's short fiction. Despite their diversity, the stories and poems that make up this volume are united in their blending of horror themes with humorous treatments.
Platt is a horror fiction renaissance man of sorts. As an author, cartoonist, former zine publisher, anthology editor, and former President of the Garden State Horror Writers, it seems there is little Platt has not done. His work has been previously published in chapbook format, and his stories and poetry have appeared in a number of anthologies including BELL, BOOK, & BEYOND, THE ASYLUM: The Psycho Ward, and a number of Barnes & Noble Publishing volumes. Although
DIE LAUGHING is his first book-length collection, Platt is no rookie.

It is not easy to write funny fiction, and funny horror is harder still, but Platt manages to pull it off with skill and style. Many of the short-shorts and poems follow a similar formula, each building up to a single punch line. But, for the most part, the formula seems to work. The humor in many of the stories presented here is bittersweet. Serious themes-including lost love, fear of unemployment, longing for what you cannot have and disappointment in you've got-often underlie the comic facades and give the stories more weight. "A Dream of Joy, Departed," "A Hell-Fire Cure for Baldness," "Video Doesn't Lie," and most of all the excellent "The Day The Laughter Died" lingered after I closed the book because they not only made me laugh, but made me think as well.

Although his subjects are sometimes off-the-wall, John's humor is not the kick-in-the-gut style favored by authors like Joe R. Lansdale and newer writers like David Whitman. Platt's writing reminded me more of Christopher Moore. Although not generally considered a horror writer, Moore is the author of PRACTICAL DEMONKEEPING, BLOODSUCKING FIENDS, and THE LUST LIZARD OF MELANCHOLY COVE, novels that treat familiar horror tropes (demons, vampires and sea monsters, respectively) with a lighthearted touch. A number of Platt's pieces provide laugh-out-loud moments, but the humor is often more subtle than that and it works as a perfect foil for the horror elements.

Of course, not all the stories work equally well. "Witch Obsession," apparently one of Platt's most reprinted pieces (in addition to the prose version that appears here, there is a short play version of this tale that recently appeared in the "Summer Fiction" issue of US1, a New Jersey arts and business newspaper), is a single punch line tale that runs too long and relies too heavily on a "surprise twist" ending that I saw coming from the first paragraph. The mercifully short "The Great Hunt" reads like filler. And while the poetry is generally amusing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, more often than not the pieces read like limericks rather than fully realized poems.

Finally, perhaps I have been spoiled by other collections, but one of the things I have come to enjoy (and expect) is story background information. Given that these stories were written over a number of years and that some of these ideas are just so damn odd, I would have been interested in hearing about the genesis for these tales and what was going on in Platt's life when he wrote them. This omission did not diminish my enjoyment of the collection, but could certainly have enhanced it, were it included.

Despite its weaknesses, John Platt's DIE LAUGHING is a solid effort, an entertaining read, and the winners outnumber the losers by a long shot. Most of all, it's fun and funny, and how often do you get to say that about a horror collection?

Well, I am off to order myself a fresh copy of DIE LAUGHING, one that hasn't suffered my own brand of water torture. But first, I think I will give this one three BookWyrms.

This review copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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