2014 – January 10 – Snakes and Snails

Image of happy monster guord

Decorated gourd www.lakeview-farms.com

It may not be Black Friday, but it feels like it. “Snakes and Snails” by Susan Tepper.


They keep the schoolyard under lock and key. It’s silly. Teachers all over the place and those aides who don’t know nothing but stand around, anyhow, like guards.

Susan Tepper has an uncanny ability to boil complex character down to its crucial elements, and she does not shy away from difficult truths. This story concerns a damaged man attempting to heal the suppressed wounds of childhood love-hate through vicarious interaction with his little darlings, the children he observes each school day on the playground. It’s a situation and character rife with tensions. One can only wonder how long the fuse will be.

And yet the story does not read like CSI at all. It’s very human, funny by turns, and always sharply observant of detail. We garner sympathy for this man even as we dread what we know he will reveal of himself as the narrative moves forward. It’s a guilty thrill to watch this guy work, and a shivery dread when he thinks: “I want to grab them and spin them around and tickle them until they fall down on the ground the spittle dripping off their chins from so much fun and laughter!”

Real monsters do not see themselves as monsters. They delude themselves into thinking what they want or need is good. Not like you and me. We see the truth of our motivations.  We keep the real monsters under lock and key.

To say that I’m looking forward to the next installment in this narrative would be unfair. I’ve got my hands pressed over my eyes, if you want to know the truth. But if you want to know the real truth, my fingers are maybe spread a little.

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About Stephen

I live in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania with fellow writer, Susan Urbanek Linville, and a herd of reformed feral cats.

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8 Responses to 2014 – January 10 – Snakes and Snails

  1. susan tepper says:

    Stephen I’m thrilled by what you wrote here. You are so on target and your illustration is perfectly perfect. Since I’ve made myself the ‘appointed music director’ of your reviews, here is the ‘theme song’ for Snakes and Snails: MY BODY IS A CAGE by Peter Gabriel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrLU96xtSqw

  2. Guilie says:

    You’re so right, Stephen: face-covered expectation, with fingers spread just the tiniest bit. Susan, you’re a master–in more ways than one.

  3. susan tepper says:

    Stephen and Guilie, I have no idea what possessed me to write this guy. In fact, strangely, I wrote all these stories while I was writing The Merrill Diaries. The two protagonists are so diametrically opposed, but maybe one helped me to write the other???

  4. That you were confident enough to seize on this impulse and write the stories says a lot. You are a real writer, fearless and craft-perfect. Interesting thought that the two characters may have balanced you in some way.

  5. Mandy says:

    Chilling and confronting, the monster revealed to be human. Brave exploration Susan.

  6. susan tepper says:

    Thanks Stephen and Mandy. I hope the character continues to intrigue…

  7. Michael says:

    Agreed in all of the above. Chilling and foreboding

  8. Great opening sentence. And creepy through and through. This story scares me. I don’t want to know more, but I do. That tension that Tepper creates here is very good – in a way that Tepper does so well. And you’re right, Stephen: she never shies away from difficult characters or topics.

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