The Grinding House (2005)

Author Kaaron Warren
Publisher CSfG Publishing
Length 217 pages
Genre Collection
Blurb None Listed

Talk us through it

Kaaron Warren presents the reader with nineteen tales of the macabre stretching across horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Depending on how the reader approaches the collection, the stories contained within it tend to lean towards one of the speculative fiction genres. As a horror supporter I naturally highlighted the horror elements, Warren isn't pulling her punches, but if push comes to shove I can also see Sci-Fi or Fantasy readers taking their own elements. Therefore to claim the collection adheres to one genre shows a misreading of what Ms Warren has achieved here.

What's nice about the collection, and something I'm always happy to see, is a short paragraph post each story explaining what Kaaron Warren was thinking when she wrote each tale.

Ready to check out a new dark thinker and see what demons may lie in wait?


"What about that chicken flu thing? That killed about a million people." - Bevan

Kaaron Warren's new novel Slights was released into Australian stores last week and as I hadn't had a chance to pick up anything by the Author I thought I would give that book a chance to give me nightmares. The marvellous staff at Sydney's Galaxy Bookshop were quick to point out they also had a few copies of The Grinding House left in stock. As the saying goes, in for a penny in for a pound, I picked up both books to get my Kaaron Warren fix happening and decided I would first tackle the short story collection before investing the time the novel with require. So if wondering, yes ScaryMinds continues to play catch up and the review pile continues to grow. So lets leap into it and see what delight's Ms Warren's collection my hold for us, the dedicated readers.

Before tackling the contents of Grindhouse I thought I might try and describe my initial thoughts about the first couple of stories in Ms Warren's astounding collection. I was on a train riding between Hornsby and Sydney Central when I cracked open the book for the first time. The journey all but disappeared into a background annoyance as I fell head long into the prose and sometime later as I left my train I was left feeling very vague and disorientated. Kaaron Warren is coming at you with both barrels cocked and ready to fire, the author knows how to sneak one through your defences, and will undermine your assumptions on what constitutes a collection of speculative fiction stories. In this country, Australia people try and keep up, the indigenous Koori have a whole bunch of myths and stories from a long ago period simply referred to as the "dream time", kind of before humankind decided walking on their hind legs was a good policy to adopt. With The Grinding House Kaaron Warren is offering us a new "dream time", except it's a future time and more apt to be a dysfunctional future than a pleasant place to contemplate.

Ms Warren's collection is filled to the brim with tales from the quiet end of the horror spectrum rather than the rough and tough gore lands writers like Brett McBean prefer to travel. This isn't to say that Grinding doesn't contain some nasty ideas, when Kaaron Warren decides to go for broke with a particularly corrupt concept she dives in clothes and all, but moreover to point out that collection contains stories that will sneak up on you and take a huge bite out of your arse. Ms Warren seems more concerned here with the horror concept and what it might convey rather than falling into the horror description frame of reference. The author allows the horror concept to envelope the reader rather than shining a light on it and screaming out "check out the dead body" guys!

To a certain degree Grinding is all about death, decay, and the rites associated with that final passage we all must someday take, assuming immortality remains outside of human reach. As stated previously different genre fans will come at the collection from different viewpoints, as a horror reviewer I'm seeing the death notes Kaaron Warren plays here and am jiving to the music she builds. The first story in the collection, the excellent and ethereal Fresh Young Widow concerns itself with a special way of preserving the dead and preparing for a mythical future happening. Interestingly Warren spins a tale that will to a certainly degree resonant with readers aware of Brigadoon, time passes different in the village the story is cantered on Warren whispers in our ear. The final story in the collection Working for the God of the Love of Money, that title will make sense, equally focuses on the effect on one person of time moving at a different pace due to the very definition of a vengeful god. In both stories it's the rites of passage that serve as the central focus.

In between the first and last stories in the collection are an astounding array of ideas and concepts given shape by the coffin shroud. As stated, horror reviewer over here get used to the symbolism my genre imposes. What I particular liked about Kaaron Warren's stories was that I couldn't pick the ending, which on occasion was so wonderfully warped that they will give even Stephen King nightmares. The Blue Stream concerns itself with the removal of adolescent years and an almost paranoid insistence on normality in all things. Naturally Ms Warren is going to point out the futility of that notion and the share bloody mindedness of people forcing others to walk a very thin social line. Kaaron Warren is at her most devilish with The Hanging People, that begins in perfect horror fashion, Meg is almost screaming out "I see dead people", but surprisingly takes even more of a perverse swing into the speculative dark woods as it concludes. A real highlight of the collection is the wonderfully nasty A-Positive that wouldn't be a miss in Clive Barker's Books of Blood. Naturally there has to be a more traditional horror story, and Kaaron Warren hits the vampire mother lode with The Sameness of Birthdays, except the Author doesn't make it that easy. The story involves a vampire, just not in the out and out Transylvania way. I read this story twice in a row, the first time through it caught me with a totally unexpected ending, the second time through was even more impactful. Kaaron Warren can deliver a straight right to your face, and you will be thanking her for the pleasure and leaping on the chance of another blow to the head.

No review of Grinding, at least in my increasingly muddled mind, is complete without mention of the titular story that brings to the end human society in a particularly unique fashion. There's just such an unrelenting morbid ring to this story told in a chipper sort of a way that you are left astonished at how Kaaron Warren pulled it off. Any aspect of the story should yell to the heavens "this can't work", yet the story is simply excellent horror mood setting and the fatalistic vision is engrossing. You are left wanting more, which Kaaron Warren supplies courtesy of two shorter stories to round out the festivities.

For those, and this should be any reader of this review who hasn't parachuted onto planet Warren, who want to score a copy of The Grinding House then check out either the "Galaxy Bookshop" or "Dymocks", both have copies of the collection and offer excellent online purchase options. Guess most good bookshops should also stock the book, and if they don't then they aren't particular good then.

ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...

I'm sending a hard 8 in the direction of The Grinding house, I found Kaaron Warren to be an excellent writer and the collection to be superb, but it may be slightly hard to access for readers expecting more of a wham bam thank you mam approach.