Review: Taste of Tenderloin

By Mike Griffiths

tastetenderloinO’Neill, Gene (2009) Taste of Tenderloin. Apex Publications. 162 pp. US $13.95. ISBN-13: 978-0981639000

Taste of Tenderloin, by Gene O’Neill, is an anthology of eight stories, all set in the Tenderloin district. The Tenderloin is the roughest neighborhood in San Francisco, and one could find plenty of real tales that take place here able to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, but Mr. O’Neill takes it a step further and adds an element of the supernatural to the narrative.

His tales range from down and out, drunks and drug addicts, to people who have already given up on life. A common thread of desperation clings to each tale, all set against the background of poverty and triggering violence. Before you are 20 pages into the book, you realize that the Tenderloin is no place that anyone wants to find him or herself in.

Despite the gloomy backdrop, many of the stories revolve around the concept of redemption. I found these the most interesting. What would a drunk do if he suddenly lost the compulsion to drink? What would it take for a junkie to set down his needle?

“Tombstones In His Eyes” is an unnerving tale about a junkie that will do anything for a fix. When his dealer is found dead, will he continue to keep getting his supply from a new dealer, even if this new dealer’s heroin gives him horrible nightmares?

In “Balance”, a vet can avert tragedies before they occur. But there is a catch: he has to murder innocents to do it.

“Bushido” centres around The Ugly Man, a character whose well of hope has long since run dry, but is it possible that his honour can somehow be rekindled? Does he have a chance to be more than a homeless bum, or is his last chance at redemption forever lost to him?

“Bruised Soul” revolves around a mangled boxer who discovers that one of his follow apartment dwellers is receiving numerous lovers in the night. However, these lovers leave the best parts of themselves behind when they stagger from her room in the morning.

The supernatural twists on addiction are fresh and interesting new concepts, not your standard horror fare. O’Neill captures the distorted views of reality that being dispossessed can create in an accurate manner and uses them to make the impossible seem probable.

Taste of Tenderloin is an entertaining and often quite-disturbing read.

You can purchase Taste of Tenderloin through Amazon.com