Epeolatry Book Review: Smile So Red and Other Tales of Darkness by Mia Dalia

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Title: Smile So Red and Other Tales of Darkness
Author: Mia Dalia
Genre: Collection; Horror
Publisher: Anuci Press
Publication Date: January 19th, 2024

Synopsis: From the author of Estate Sale and many other literary nightmares, comes a collection of dark psychological fiction like no other, featuring novelettes and shorter stories that range from horror to suspense to mystery to coming-of-age to thrillers.
Smile So Red – a man down on his luck finds a strange graffitied house on his hike, and can’t quite seem to leave it behind.
Spindel – a twelve-year-old boy suspects that one of the neighbors on his paper route might be a local serial killer and sets off to investigate.
Blues for the Soul – a library worker tries to help a troubled young boy and uncovers a terrible truth about his family.
Devil’s Chord – return to the world of Smile So Red with a meta journey set to the earworm tune of your worst nightmares.
Stump – a bullied young boy and a downtrodden family man from the same apartment complex unwittingly find solace in the same area of the local woods, trusting their secrets to the same remnant of an old tree.
Flamingos – two sisters must confront their troubled past when a buried memory is triggered by the seemingly innocuous plastic lawn birds.
The Trunk – a first-generation immigrant from a war-torn country striving to achieve the American Dream finds something in the basement of his new home that has other ideas for him.
Reddest – another return to the world of Smile So Red, albeit from a very different perspective.

I discovered Mia Dalia in an anthology I edited, That Darkened Doorstep.  Her story, “Primal Scream” showed me her talent, and ever since reading that, and subsequently reading and reviewing her novel, Estate Sale, I’ve been a fan. I was thrilled that she entrusted me to review her newest collection, Smile so Red. 

Dalia is, in my opinion, a literary gem. She’s a perspective changer and a brain tease. Little is wasted on the page, as if the entire book is real estate where square footage counts. If you skim, you’ll miss out on quality prose. 

The author takes you into a seemingly normal world, creates a setting you can smell and see and hear, and offers up characters you might already know. Then she opens the trap door. She’s well published, and if you haven’t heard of her by now… well, here ya go!

In Anthology and Collection reviews, I like to highlight the opening line. I think that not only hints at what you’re getting into, but also hooks the appeal, and displays the author’s talent. 

“SMILE SO RED”

Opening line: It had been said that good things appear when you least expect them, but in Anton’s experience, anything worth knowing or owning had always required a great deal of actively searching for it.

When one wanders off the well-traveled path, bad things might happen. This theme is widely explored in most of these short stories, but it’s truly highlighted here. And, be careful what you wish for. 

“SPINDEL” 

Opening line: When we are children, our imperfect worlds make perfect sense to us. 

We all have a boogeyman in our lives. I remember mine—I should write a short story about her! Dalia tackled Johnny Walker’s boogeyman as one might tackle a slippery fish—hold on tight and prepare for a fight.

 

“BLUES FOR THE SOUL” 

Opening line: On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, Martha Sutton read stories to small children at the local library.

You know the song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia? This story could have taken place there, and maybe he went to a bar and danced and met a woman. And then…  

“THE DEVIL’S CHORD”

Opening line: “What do you call that thing? You know, when a song gets stuck in your head and won’t leave?”

I had to wonder if this took place in the same woods and cabin as her first story. Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, woods and cabins offer the best of isolation and darkness and creepy vibes.

“STUMP” 

Opening line: He dropped the gun.

Truly, a well written who-done-it. 

“FLAMINGOS”

Opening line: At first, I liked the plastic flamingos out front. 

I once put flamingos in my friend’s yard for a birthday surprise. Never again. Especially not the red-beaked birds.

“THE TRUNK” 

Opening line: There was a large park stretching out right across the street from the condo development.

Some nightmares can’t stay buried, and some memories just won’t die. This was my favorite of the Collection. 

“REDDEST”

Opening line: I’ve never given any thought to graffiti until I moved here.

Red is my favorite color, and I, too, will never look at that color the same way again! 

 

Dalia also includes NOTES ON THE STORIES, which I found fascinating as both a reader and a writer. I included a few teaser lines, but there’s much more from her inside the book.

“Blues for the Soul”: was conceived to try doing something new with the “evil child” scenario.

“The Devil’s Chord”: I learned about it during a music lesson, and it had stuck with me ever since.

“Stump”: Tobey and Finn are two very different individuals united in bleak circumstances and bound by a deadly weapon.

“Flamingos”: like a lot of my recent writing was inspired by a move to a small-town suburbia idyll after a lifetime of city living.

“The Trunk”: just showed up.

“Reddest”: was written specifically for the Crystal Lake Entertainment’s monthly flash fiction competition.

/5

Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

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