Review: “Absolute Zero” by Nadia Bulkin

4 of 5 stars.

When taken at face value, this modern folktale is interesting. When read allegorically, it becomes quite fascinating highlighting a particularly strong angle available to the modern monster tale–that of substituting an unfathomable human with a monster in order to seek understanding. This tale addresses the particular pitfalls of a boy raised by a single mother trying to find out about his absentee father. The issues of abandonment and hero-worship are braided together, made all the more complicated when the father is notoriously feared.

Max was only 8 when his quirky, socially-disdained mother showed him a picture of the father he’d never known. The man was a monster–the Stag-Man of Digby Forest [body of a man, head of a stag, predator teeth and appetite, virile like a satyr]. The photo might as well have been a mugshot–full of unwanted answers. His mother died young, but naturally after many suicide attempts. Then, his maternal grandmother that took him in passed, too. At 26, Max was without family, but working and dating a great gal.

One day, a farmer captures and cages the horrible Stag-Man, mistreating him and selling freakshow tickets at the monster’s expensive. Max goes, knowing it’s his father behind the bars. Then, he goes again when his girlfriend wants to see the attraction. She, like nearly everybody, is repulsed by the experience, but Max confesses the relationship between him and the monster that seemingly does not know him. He wants her to know because he wants to marry her–however, she cannot process the info and breaks contact with Max.

The farmer and his family are found murdered and the Stag-Man broken out. The beast finds Max at home–it knows him . . .

This tale premieres in Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters edited by John Langan and Paul Tremblay. I’d previously read this author’s “Only Unity Saves the Damned”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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