You’re traveling through another dimension—a dimension not only of letters and words but of stories; a journey into a literary land whose pages are bound with imagination. There’s reviews coming up ahead—your next stop: The Consequential Reading Zone!
Okay, maybe that intro could have a little more ring to it. We’ll try for better next time. Anyway, let’s take a look at the stories I’ve found for you to check out this week. If you wish to read any of these titles, click the book’s image to get your own…
Peekers – Kealan Patrick Burke
Now and then you’ll find a true creeper when you pick up a short story—the kind that puts your vertebrae on ice and sticks to the inside of your skull like black tar. Peekers is one of these. I’ve heard many good things about Kealan’s writing, and this was a pretty solid confirmation of those testimonials. It’s a creeper.
The story begins with a neighbor’s odd request, and the imagery that follows is enough to keep me looking over my shoulder—no easy feat for most authors. Sometimes the scariest things are ambiguous, and sometimes they’re quite simple. If you want to get under someone’s skin with a story, you need only put something where it doesn’t belong.
It’s not flawless by any means; the final scene is a tad over-the-top and unnecessary for my taste, though it doesn’t spoil the horror by explaining it all the way. That doesn’t make it any less worth your time. A small nitpick if anything.
Kealan Patrick Burke has a number of longer books available, so I’m excited to give them a look. It’s clear I’ve heard the name going around for a very good reason.
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Ah, Orwell. This one’s actually a re-read for me. When I first picked up this book, it unexpectedly passed my eyes cover to cover one night, and I’ve always remembered it fondly. It’s held up well since then, and has possibly been more enjoyable with time passing.
Of course, if you’re familiar with Animal Farm, you probably know it’s a fable that allegorically shows the history surrounding the Russian Revolution. I’m not big on historical fiction, or really anything shedding light on history, because most of the time it fails to be engaging. Even though history is insightful and interesting, it’s all easily lost to a miserable, dry telling.
Orwell’s classic is fixating, and he manages to tell it in a way that still makes sense without understanding the history it’s based on. It’s a story about deception, and how people can be blinded and controlled by their leaders—and the fact that it’s told with a full cast of animal characters is quite a disarming contrast. It also could just be me, but I also find the transformation of some of the animals at the end to be disturbing. Maybe it’s just the creep-factor of animals doing things they physically shouldn’t be able to do.
Nonetheless, it’s a fantastic story, and one of the many classics I’m glad I wasn’t forced to read in a High School English class. You can read it for the history, or for the draw of a good story, as I feel it succeeds in both ways. Not something you’d expect me to review here, ey? Well I will, and I have; no good fiction is to be overlooked in these parts, no matter what it may be.
Romance – Chuck Palahniuk
When you throw the name Palahniuk at most readers, the first short story to come to mind is probably Guts. And that makes sense: you don’t forget a story like that once you’ve read it. Romance is still a signature “Chuck” kinda story, but it’s of the more tender variety.
Romance is about a man who believes he’s the luckiest in the world, after he meets the gaze of a pretty woman at a bar. She ends up being a little more than he expected, and that leaves room for plenty of questions, laughs, and touching insight.
Chuck can draw you into a character’s life with such skill and passion, you can’t look away. In another author’s hands, Romance probably wouldn’t be nearly as memorable or remarkable, but it’s the telling that really sells this one. I laughed, felt warm at heart, and was even grossed out without expecting to be. I should have known better. It’s Chuck we’re talking about.
If you’ve only ever read Fight Club, or his longer works, the short stories are definitely worth looking into. I don’t think there’s been a single one I haven’t enjoyed so far.
The Little Book of Horrors – Edited by Sebastian Wolfe
Not all of these are the most effective, but the one’s that work really drive it home, and there’s plenty of variety to be found. You’ll find folklore legends like that of Mujina—about the ghost of a young girl with a featureless, blank face—and even a handful of classics by Ambrose Bierce and Charles Dickens. And of course, there are pieces by more contemporary authors such as Richard Christian Matheson, Joe R. Lansdale, Roald Dahl, Robert Bloch, and even John Lennon. You read that right, the John Lennon. I’ll highlight a few of my personal favorites:
Chompers by Lansdale is a whimsical bit of horror about a pair of dentures—the curse of which is very strange indeed.
In the Ruins by Roald Dahl has always stuck with me; I remembered it just as clearly from when I’d first read it. Plenty of people don’t know Dahl wrote some pretty disturbing material outside his children’s books, and he wasn’t messing around. This story only takes up a single paperback page, and yet it so elegantly paints a desolate, apocalyptic landscape with some desperate survivors.
American Gothic by M.A. Lyon feels like it could’ve come straight out of a night around the campfire telling scary stories. The urban legend feel of it, paired with those last couple lines make it very unsettling indeed. What do you get when you run out of gas, and the only place around looks to have been left to rot ages ago? A a bad encounter, that’s what.
A Lot to Learn by Robert T Kurosaka is a fun bit of science fiction. The ending isn’t really unexpected, but it’s fun for what it is—a quick story with a quick punch, as many in this collection are.
As with flash fiction in general, sometimes the stories are lost to worn-down clichés, and sometimes they don’t punch as hard as they could, but this is a fun and charming collection. There are one-panel comics by Gahan Wilson and Edward Gorey sprinkled throughout, a decent selection of poetry (both gruesome and whimsical,) and some gems which really make this stand out. Keep this on your nightstand for some quick bedtime reading.
That about does it for the recommended reading this week. Any suggestions for next week’s review? Leave me a comment down below! In the meantime, thank you for reading this post, and be sure to sign your name in the logbook at my haunted post office to get the latest free content, exclusive material, and updates. I’ll see you in the next one.