Gristle and Bone review by: Mandy Tyra



Duncan Ralston is Start Raving Rad!!
Hot Damn, I just continue to be impressed by this author, reigning from up above.
In Canada.After reading his jaw dropping, extremely intricate, highly engaging and darkly humorous novella Woom ( back to back, it warrants it, demands it ) which also happens to be one of my top reads for 2016, I debated on what of his to read next and decided on this, because it’s 7 short stories.
Over 360 (or approx 275 depending on if you’re going by Goodreads or Amazon…) pages total!
Oh so filling, sooo girthy. I wanted to sample more from him, all across his imaginative, polished, and sharply cracked spectrum before diving into a full novel.
And he didn’t just bring it, he took it. It’s gone…
YEP, takes that cake aaand as long as he didn’t make it himself, I reckon I’ll have seconds… and thirds. I’m a glutton.

With an insightful and charming introduction by Chris Hall, that fantastic reviewer over at DLS reviews. Hmmm I wonder what the DLS stands for…
I can’t even think up a semi clever pun for that one.

I included Kindle page counts for each BUT they are rough count page cuts, I counted them myself so, huge margins of error.
My abacus may need an alignment.

Baby Teeth ~ 12
Candace and Joel find out she is unable to conceive, which sends her down a depressing downward/wayward spiral. She wants so bad to be a mom, craves it. Now, no more desire for sex AND she takes up old lady hobbies. Overall, just adopting a real lackadaisical phoning it in approach to life until….well, something gets her number and forces a proactive pep in her monotonous step.
It’s easy to see why this one is the shortest of the bunch but DAMMITT, I wanted more, more of Candace in the throes of her fruitless woes and how she copes.
I oddly could relate to her. Well, not the barren part….all those bits and pieces have worked, a bit too well.

Beware of Dog ~ 55
Dean has had some anger issues. In his mid 30’s and back living at home since he was dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces following an aggressive/turned violent/turned awol episode. He’s ordered to take some therapy, thankfully it’s with long time family friend, Dr. Timothy Baswell. He sees no real use for it, other than getting it over with but to his surprise ‘Uncle Tim’ helps him have a breakthrough. It all stems from his early years, trio of despicable bullies, and a puppy dog love crush. Yea, being back in his hometown, and running into all his old friends and foes is the beast thing that could have happened to our Dean to come to terms with his rabid demons.
Alot going on in this one and you really have no idea it’s true direction but you’ll enjoy the ‘seemingly’ aimless venture and holy hell what an ending!!!!

Viral ~ 40
Tara is a kind of emotionally crippled, no notable relationships with anyone. She’s very guarded and closed off. Works the music column at the Toronto Herald, she’s unfulfilled and longs for meatier material to sink her journalistic teeth into. Seeing a video online that has gone viral about a depressed and despondent teenage girl, who remarkable, unbelievably….just up and disappears during her candid webcam outpouring. There is no way that was a camera trick, Tara resonates with that girl….she IS that girl. After some slick convincing to her boss, she heads out into the field to correspond with the girl’s family, and friend. She senses a real story here, one that may get her off the tuneless music beat, and she maaay even find herself in the process.
Sad and poignant, such an amazing story. Oh the drama of it all.
I think there is an urban legend about this, the sad bullied teen, just….disappearing.
They already feel so invisible on the outside, who would even notice, right….
GOD, this one really got me, pulled my heartstrings taut, and taunt!

Artifact (#37) ~ 26
A manly group of entrepreneurs….connoisseurs of sleaze, if you will. What’s a group of very able-bodied men to do for a gainful living when they have no real bankable skills. Well, procure a nice sized van and reinvent themselves as cyber porn peddlers. Christening their little dirty jiz biz, The Filthy Lessons Crew, they joyride them streets. With stage names like Mad Bastard and Meat, it’s like the smuttiest of reality shows and their paid female counterparts play their part whole whorily. And it was quite lucrative before the internet porn craze really took off. They are now celebrating their 200th video but one early ‘actress’ is more memorable than the rest, she unfortunately fell victim to an atrocious crime of circumstance while in their charge. It was completely unrelated to them but they were still held accountable in the public eye, they’ve always held themselves accountable too. Her memory continues to haunt them. You can’t help but kind of like these lewd and crude trashy guys. Dispiriting and foreboding with a heavy dose of off-color bawdy.

//End User ~ 29
Mason, conspiracy theorist blogger and loner, wakes up one morning to a strange email. It’s not so much what it says, it’s the fact that it’s to and from himself. Has he been pranked, spammed, hacked, is ‘the man’ watching?? They keep coming and seem to know a little bit too much, even things that haven’t happened yet…
Through the course of the day, he goes through many emotions trying to understand what’s going on. He’s tinker tottering on the edge, has his long-standing paranoia finally driven him to schizophrenia….
Who holds the real power, what is the end game here?
This was quite the little pulse pounding cyber thriller. You don’t know what the hell is going on and can’t wait to find out! Loved the Arnie, They Live, and Marathon Man references.

Fat of the Land ~ 56
Delectably delicious and disturbingly….grody. Just ew, grody…
June and David, happily unmarried couple in Monte Verde California for a wedding.
June comes from money and has a very unpretentious aura about her, turns her nose up at snotty rich entitlements. David does not come from money yet tries to adapt a pretentious entitled aura about him. In an innocent naive way though, she finds it endearing and kind of dorky. Such a cute couple.
June does often hear the nagging voice of unreason from her not so dearly departed bigoted mother though, antagonizing her, trying to keep her toting that birth rite grandiose line.
Getting a recommendation from the hotel desk clerk about an upscale, referred reservation only restaurant called Ambrosia, they head out for what promises to be a romantic and eclectic fine dining experience. Should have stuck with McD’s drive thru.
This one made me soooo hungry, Duncan’s excellent mouth-watering descriptions of food, OMG, I had to take a break and make me something savory. UNTIL, he pulled back that tainted false curtain, then my savory treat came back up, from whence it went down.
Bravo for that bit of aversion therapy ~ bulimia style.
This one gets crazy with a hell of a lot going on from a missing groom, an odd whaaat denominational church, old world prejudices, a strange mythic script, and underground caverns. Flat out loved all the couple’s bantering framework and that slow burn ~ where the hell is this going ~ build up.

Scavengers ~ 97
Jim and Leanne were restaurant owners late in life, tired of their normal daily grind business like jobs in the small town of Knee High. They are successful and serve delicious food that brings ’em in from all over. Very nice, honest, and reliable couple. Well, some things come to light ~ ooor to the dark ~ that drive Jim a bit batty, he doesn’t like anything going on in his restaurant’s back alley. A little investigating and he uncovers more than just the random, harmless scavenger. Their lives snowball into blackmail, bartering, conspiracy theories and espionage.
Neighbor, long time friend and accountant for the couple tells their tale, in written form, to best of his secondhand (fill in the gaps) ability.
How interesting, what a unique approach to storytelling.
This is creepy crawly and will make you think twice, do a double take when you hear something rustling out back by your garbage bins. Could it be…..
This one was a novella, almost a 100 pages, perfect little mystery with an excellent hair-raising, freakish factor going for it. Again, loved that POV style!

And there you have it, 7 diverse, fantastic, and unique stories.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You’ll binge, you’ll purge. Very very easy to get lost in these stories.
Awesome title too; Gristle and Bone. Because a lot of characters find themselves stuck rut in the middle of a gnawed off sinewy tough spot and a rock hard endo aaand exo place.

So hard to believe that this was his first published work! He’s a natural.
And quite…unnatural. Yea, he is finely tuned and calibrated to precision, more than capable of wooing us with his spitfire charm, yet he is also slightly unhinged. All the best ones are!!!

So much depth, none of these stories were an A to B kind of tale. They are all over the goddamn alphabet!! Foreign alphabets too, I’d wager.
Lots of layers I notice in ALL his stories, Woom and all those interconnecting tales as well, he’s like a ginormous bulbous onion, but not one of them sweet vidalia onions.
No, ain’t no sweet in them bitter eye burning layers. Plenty of sour though and a touch of ripe but oh so savory sauteed with a side of liver and a bottle of red.

Viral and //End User I pictured as episodes of that fantastic Black Mirror show. Perfect perfect fit.
A younger Hilary Swank circa ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ would be a shoe-in for Viral and I imagined a scruffy Elijah Wood in //End User. He pulls off that deer in the headlights paranoid look very well.
Artifact (#37) would fit the tone of that show too, I got a couple old boyfriends who would be dead ringer excellent as the brothers.
Yea, Duncan needs to get in contact with that Charlie Brooker chap, dinner and a lot of drinks, they could hammer and nail it all out. 😀

“…the one which reminds us we all walk a tightrope between sanity and madness, a rope that is both slippery and barbed. The odds are not stacked in our favor.”
Helpful tip: for optimal ~and stable~ enjoyment, it’s best to craft yourself in the art of tap, and tip toe, when strutting across a tightly woven yet jagged and edgy Ralston branded tightrope.
Happy and safe reading to all.

Ralston has a permanent home on my Kindle that’s for sure!!

What next from him, there are quite a few tasty choices. Savages, about a flooded town in a haunted lake and a grieving brother searching for answers or maybe I’ll soak up more short stories in Sweat and Blood. Guess I’ll just have to flip a coin.

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