Review: ‘Island Funeral’ by Keith Minnion

On the first morning of their honeymoon, Sarah asks her new husband, Timothy, to make sure that when she dies she’ll be buried in her family’s plot on the mainland. She’s emphatic about it, and, although as confused as any young husband would be to have such a discussion on his honeymoon, Timothy agrees.

Sadly, it’s a promise that he has a chance to keep a mere four years later, although circumstances beyond his control make it a promise he’s in no position to keep when the time comes.

Broken promises and family secrets form the heart of Island Funeral, a new chapbook now available from Cemetery Dance. In this short but powerful story, author Keith Minnion introduces us to a family with ties that run deep, and the means to ensure that those ties aren’t broken under any circumstances. Including, it appears, the wishes of a young woman and her husband.

Timothy accompanies Sarah’s body to a remote area of Maine, where her last living relative, grandfather Arthur, still lives. It’s also the site of the family plot that Sarah was so insistent about. As far as Timothy knows, it’s destined to be her final resting place. But Arthur, grief-stricken and resolute, has different plans.

I won’t go any further into the plot because I feel like I’ve already said too much. This is, after all, a short story without a lot of room for plot twists and diversions. Island Funeral doesn’t need those devices to work. It’s a prime example of why the short story is such an effective vehicle for horror – it sets up a simple idea, populates the idea with good characters, and runs its course. It can be read in one sitting, but works well enough to stick with you long after you’re done.

I’ve been familiar with Minnion’s work as a book designer and illustrator for a while now, but this was my first opportunity to read his fiction. He’s apparently one of those guys that’s good at everything he decides to do – you know, the kind of guy most of us hate. Okay, “hate” is way too strong a word, but I felt an undeniable sense of jealousy as I realized how effortlessly Minnion was unfolding the story in front of me. In fact, I hadn’t even planned to read the whole thing right away – I received it this week, and was scanning the first couple of pages as I always do when new books come in, and before I realized it I was finished.

This is a great book to pick up when you’re ready for something whole and satisfying, yet don’t have the time to dive into a novel. The tension builds from the very first page, indeed from that very first request by a newlywed who should have far happier things on her mind than where she’s going to be buried. Minnion never loses course, taking those first inklings of dread and nurturing them until the story reaches its heartbreaking conclusion. This was my first taste of Minnion’s fiction, but happily will not be my last.

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