BOX OF LIES by Mark LaFlamme; Booklocker.com Inc., 2010; 378 pages, trade paperback, $17.95; e-book, $5.99.
A long time ago in a part of Maine far, far away, a friend used to drive me around in his little orange Karmann Ghia. We zipped at near the speed of light along the twisting Escher-like woods roads like a bee on amphetamines. Whether we were ever actually going anywhere, I can’t remember.
Once we ended up at the Telstar satellite facility that was one of the first of its kind in the world, the highest possible technology in the deepest possible middle of nowhere in north-northwest Maine. It was spooky. Then we careened back to wherever we had come from, his home in Andover I think, and the Karmann Ghia was so light that in another dimension it might have lifted off. He scared the hell out of me.
Somehow we survived, though, which is the same feeling you’re apt to get if you read Mark LaFlamme’s collection of short stories, “Box of Lies,” from start to finish. Warning: It will happen fast. These stories race headlong through the twists and turns of all kinds of macabre and fantastic situations, constantly feeling like they could swerve off the road any second, but nonetheless head single-mindedly for home, or somewhere worse.
Practically every story has the air of an old “Twilight Zone” episode. The action, both external and internal, drives straight ahead at all points, with character background sketched in on a need-to-know basis. We get Edgar Allan Poe-like situations, as in “Table for One,” in which a quiet diner steals cutlery from restaurants, uses it in grisly murders, then returns the utensils to the restaurants to enjoy the irony of their innocent reuse.
And there are post-apocalypse scenarios as in “The Village Store at the End of the World,” in which, after an Armageddon, a lone storekeeper is resolved to sit out the rest of eternity in his backwoods establishment with a shotgun over his lap waiting for survivors — and protecting his beer.
Everything is given quick, dirty and relentless, and laced continuously through is a real down-Maine sense of humor. In “Gibberish,” another post-apocalypse tale, people are losing the ability to speak or even act civilly. The main characters, not yet crazy, set out with determination to find out what’s going on, and amid wrecked cars, darkened streetlights, lunatics, corpses and feasting rats, one of them off-handedly observes, “‘FEMA really dropped the ball on this one.’”
Many of the stories are set in fictional Maine towns with undercurrents we all recognize, including the ravages of alcoholism, isolation, obsession, backwoods paranoia, and many quirk-ridden Down East traits deftly developed by Stephen King and echoed here in skeletal form.
“Box of Lies” is a screaming Karmann Ghia ride through the wild Maine west. Don’t be surprised if you come out in a clearing where aliens have set up a high-tech communications facility.
Mark LaFlamme is an award-winning reporter and columnist for the Sun Journal in Lewiston. His books include “The Pink Room,” “Vegetation” and “Dirt: An American Campaign,” and all are available in paperback or e-book through his website, which is a hoot itself, at http://marklaflamme.com, or through www.booklocker.com or amazon.com. Check out a video teaser at http://booklocker.com/books/5006.html.