''Tales from the Prom'' -- A new book collects stories that make high school's ultimate party sound horrific

By Alexandra Jacobs
April 24, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Wrist corsages. Peach schnapps. Yards and yards of taffeta. Is it mere coincidence that Elissa Stein and Daniel Mailliard’s Tales From the Prom sounds like a collection of horror vignettes?

”Everyone has a story,” says Mailliard, 30, describing how a book idea dawned on him one day after reminiscing with ad-agency colleagues. ”Nobody has a good story,” finishes Stein, 33, a graphic designer with one previous publishing credit: a paean to vomit entitled Chunks: A Barfology (also St. Martin’s).

One work fed into another. ”Vomit is a big theme at some people’s proms,” explains Stein. The collaborators sifted through 300 responses to a specially prepared questionnaire, extracting the retching from the truly wretched. (Despite their bad memories, 62 percent of the sample saved memorabilia from that special night.) Drunkenness is king, but there are cotillions ruined by mono…by no-show dates…by excess in decoration and dress. ”I love that they rented a little pond to put in their high school gym,” says Mailliard of one surely unforgettable Evening of the White Jade Moon.

Proms, the authors note, remain popular backdrops for dramatic denouements throughout filmdom, where Molly Ringwald (Pretty in Pink) reigns as proms’ patron saint. ”It was interesting to see Carrie in contrast to It’s a Wonderful Life, where the worst that happened was that they fell into a pool,” comments Mailliard dryly.

Stein, whose date crashed his car, had a bit more trouble: ”I was wandering around bleeding. My parents threw us in somebody’s limo. By the time we got to Terrace on the Park, I was swollen and battered.” At least her gown, in ”shades of pale blue and yellow,” coordinated with her bruises.

Not matching — now, that would have been a horror story.