Ricky Olson – Gloom (Book Review)

Sometimes, even if you mean it, you’re not going to make it in this world. Sometimes, life just has other plans and we find ourselves beheaded in the name of bitter revenge or left to drown trapped inside a sinking ferry. Not exactly warm and cozy thoughts, sure, but you can’t say that you weren’t forewarned when the book containing these black and moody tales is aptly-entitled Gloom. A collection of a dozen oft macabre and tenebrous stories from Guitarist/Author Ricky Olson, Gloom arrives to paperback as well as e-book editions on Tuesday, September 4, 2018, via North Lake Press.

You might know the name Ricky Olson, much in thanks to his fabulous “day job” as Ricky Horror, guitarist for the Pennsylvania Metal outfit Motionless In White. The band has gained critical success in their decade-long career, hitting No. 1 on the U.S. Rock charts and receiving a Top 10 slot on the Billboard Top 200. Hitting their lucky thirteenth year as a band in 2018, Motionless In White have steadily built themselves an impressive career, much in thanks to the release of four exceptional albums, ranging from 2010’s Creatures to 2017’s Graveyard Shift.

That is just the man’s usual gig, if you will. Gloom is the first published collection of writing from Olson, who, in his own words, fully admits that these are “fucked up worlds where these exaggerated, over-the-top characters live in these dark hell-holes of life.” Indeed. Spread across the anthology’s 124 pages are 12 stories that run the gamut from Horror to black humor, apocalyptic scenarios to painful sexual exploits. There is sex, death, and diarrhea – and, mangia mangia, pizza.

Previewed in part on Olson’s website ahead of the book’s publication, “Vanity” kicks off the collection with a bizarre exploration of what you get when you are a vain young person playing with fire in our social media-obsessed world. Part fictional tale, part social commentary, “Vanity” sets the tone with a decidedly not-so-happy ending as we explore the wearing of literal masks to hide our shocking facades. In a somewhat similarly-linked tale, “1-800” explores the world of one complacent suicide hotline worker who is in desperate need of a real thrill.

For “The Snowglobe,” Olson delves further into his narrative abilities and weaves a somewhat familiar tale of a “cursed” object that leads to the disappearance of each of its owners. Here, while the base-line plot is somewhat of a Horror-dusted cliché, there’s an underlying commentary on the never-ending cycle of greed in our rabid consumerism-obsessed society. In fact, it’s inside these longer offerings where Olson’s writing style flourishes as he expounds upon a timeless fictional idea but with a fully-modern, keen commentary embedded inside the deeper layers of his narrative.

In “Sunshine,” we experience the horrors of everyday life for one unfortunate waitress at a local greasy spoon, while “Slug” offers an amusing anecdote about the painful fumbles of frenzied backseat sex gone awry for one poor guy. “Wet Socks” is a curiously moody blend, one that revolves around a dying man and his last desperate attempt to be near the woman he loves. Here, Olson paints some truly beautiful visuals of a rainy night and heartwarming thoughts of a loving couple folding their laundry together, even if it all culminates in the tale of a violent man with nothing left to lose. One sentiment embedded in the entire tale resonates as most haunting: “If you’ve never loved someone enough to really hurt them, you’ve never really loved at all.

Some say the world will end in fire, but Olson says in ice. In “Summitview Crest,” the snowpocalypse arrives to the residents of an eight-home development, and they must work together to survive or fall apart at the seams amidst a brave new world. Again, when the author allows himself room to wander, he traipses into some interesting territory, injecting random commentary on veganism and obsessive trend following, along with some ice-cold sexual dalliances, into a much larger tale of suburban survival. The bottom line is that, end of days or not, people will always be petty. Here, the myriad elements blend together to formulate a story that, while tragic, has moments of dark humor and turns a keen eye toward the dangers of blindly following trends, all with a dusting of something wholly classic, with some gentle echoes of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.

“The Delivery” is a short burst of deranged humor, while “Paper or Plastic?” is a disturbingly haunting exploration of one young man’s emotional numbness. For “Danny,” Olson explores the off-kilter give and take of one truly unhealthy friendship. He returns to what he does best with the lengthier “Steel Casket,” the heartbreaking sinking of a sea ferry with one truly unfortunate soul trapped inside the car deck and drowning. Despite the bleak and emotional nature of the tale, there are moments of illumination and thoughtful flourishes dusted throughout, which is a wonderful example of Olson’s style, overall. In short, there is gloom, yes, but there are also intelligent observations, sharp wit, and shocking warmth.

Gloom ends with “Trial & Error,” a simple case of one man, failed by our severely flawed justice system, taking the law into his own hands. It’s one of the collection’s shorter offerings, though it holds no less weight, as who among us has not felt a desperate need for cold, hard justice? In fact, desperation itself seems to be a common thread among the bleak and moody characters that permeate the pages of Gloom, all bound together by a rabid need for something – be it love or closure, sustenance or popularity.

Olson’s writing style is generally straightforward, though there are conversational moments that leave the reader to feel as though Olson himself is sitting beside them, verbally narrating his own tale. These random, candid asides are enjoyable peeks, the imparting of trivia-worthy information or glimpses into the author’s opinions of our current world; these are the breaths of fresh air that staunch the doom. Because, let’s face it, Gloom is not a feel-good read, not something that is going to lift a pall from the drudgery of life but rather cast a spotlight onto the worst of our society and expose its most wretched and horrible realities. Which is fine, because we already know that people equal shit. Inspired by the darkness, Olson spins tales that are sometimes shocking, oft dismal, but intriguing nonetheless. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Ricky Olson’s Gloom 4 of 5 stars.

Purchase Gloom:

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