Book Review : Paul Michael Anderson - Bones are Made to be Broken (2016)
"You ruined my life and you want me to feel SORRY for you?"
Herbert fought back, but Jake's grim was iron. "Don't you think I know that? My life's no better than yours." (The Universe is Dying)
The name Paul Michael Anderson might not be familiar to you. It wasn't familiar to me either until I've read his eerie and nuanced short story All That You Leave Behind in Perpetual Motion Machine's horror anthology Lost Signals, last summer. When I learned Dark Regions Press of all people were publishing his debut short story collection Bones are Made to be Broken, I was intrigued. Great publishers and debut short story collections are two things that usually don't go together. No self-respecting publisher would acquire one if it wasn't amazing. And it totally is. I understand you probably don't feel like reading a another debut short story collection from someone you don't fucking know, but this is different. Imagine having new short stories from Stephen King or Harlan Ellison to look forward to? Bones are Made to be Broken would be the next best thing.
Bones are Made to be Broken is a LONG collection and the title story is somewhat responsible for that. It takes almost two hundred pages in a 430 pages book that contains 14 stories. It's not usual to have a "feature" in a collection, but I thought it was a good idea. Bones are Made to be Broken tells the story of Karen, a woman slowly sinking into the depth of depression and madness. It's emotionally excruciating to read for all the right reasons. Paul Michael Anderson has this recurring theme of the inner self as an intruder in his stories that's in full display in Bones are Made to be Broken. Karen's self-consciousness is a curse to her. inner voices are always whispering to her, making her feel inadequate and terrified all the time. It's a new and original twist on the classic Judeo-Christian trope of enlightenment. The greatest adversary of human beings is themselves and their vapid need for self-determination.
Now, while Bones are Made to be Broken is the showstopper of the collection, Paul Michael Anderson tireless genre hopping is definitely another thing it has going for itself. The opener Crawling Back to You is a monster story that dynamically surfs the line between the literal and allegoric definition of the term. The Doorway Man is a Lovecraftian boogeyman story. The Universe is Dying is dark, existential speculative fiction in the tradition of Harlan Ellison. Bones are Made to be Broken and All That You Leave Behind are psychological horror. The transition between stories is fluid and dynamic. Paul Michael Anderson's writing doesn't feel gimmicky, but it has a pulp edge to it. Bones are Made to be Broken felt like binging an anthology show. It brought me back to the good ol' days of Masters of Horror.
"Our bodies are meant to take damage. It they weren't, we'd be invulnerable. Our skin is meant to be cut. Our hearts are meant to bleed. Our bones are made to be broken. We are damaged goods. We are human. We are who we are. And, when we feel that pain, that's our bodies reminding us of who and what we are. Human." (Bones are Made to be Broken)
Paul Michael Anderson is a conventional storyteller in the Tolstoy-esque sense of the term the same way Stephen King is and it's not that crazy to compare both talents. Anderson is a magnificent, detail-oriented craftsman. He doesn't have a lazy bone in his body. He will go through whatever excruciating length to make his stories feel alive in a way others aren't. If debut short story collections often feel bland and hackneyed, it's because they're often quickly pieced together and full of quickly pieced together stories written for immediate validation rather than for love of the craft. This is not the case here. Paul Michael Anderson is a passionate student of the game and it shows in Bones are Made to be Broken. There is no shortcuts, no gimmicks, every story is its own world, brimming with potential.
There is no filler on Bones are Made to be Broken. I know it sounds crazy given the sheer length of the collection, but every story is deserving to be in the collection. I kept waiting for that soulless, formulaic story to show up, but it never did. If you'll allow me the musical allegory, it's like listening to a very satisfying double album. I stand by my comparisons to Stephen King and Harlan Ellison. Sky is the limit for Paul Michael Anderson. He has the storytelling skill and the creative ethics to become a household name in dark fiction. I now better understand why Dark Regions Press picked up his debut short story collection. They wanted to be a part of this. Paul Michael Anderson is for real, guys. Check out Bones are Made to be Broken and become one of these people who can say: "I was a fan before he was popular."