Gavin's Reviews > Tragic Life Stories

Tragic Life Stories by Steve Duffy
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's review
Apr 10, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: horror
Read from April 10 to 27, 2012

Steve Duffy is another of these fringe horror writers, who publish endless reams of (from what I've read of his oeuvre) superb novellas and short stories. Tragic Life Stories is a collection of his ferociously English tales that -amazingly, for a short story collection- all hit, just with varying success.

Two things in particular I think it's pretty important to talk about with this work in mind are:
1. These are stories about ghosts & monsters that are not stories about ghosts & monsters (and Jaws is not a film about a shark).
2. All but one of these stories are not "horror" in the conventional "scary monster" or "spooky ghost" sort of way.

Tragic Life Stories (the eponymous short) is a look at the morality involved in enjoying a book about child abuse (when written from the perspective of the child). And conversely the morality regarding doing a Proper Job of writing an abused child. It became obvious early on that he was focussed on creepy off-camera stuff, rather than vile be-tentacled monstrosities. And when the pay-off came and the true horror of the story was revealed to be crushing loneliness and social rejection and it worked, I was delighted.

All of the stories are like this; moving through a semi-conventional horror narrative in a professional, engaging way until you realise that it's actually a story about the fear of being lost in a new city, of oblivion, of having to make an impossible choice or of teenage sexual awkwardness.

I would not call any of the vignettes outright failures; however Nightmare Farm, Tantara and Someone Across The Way suffered to various extents from problems with pacing, theme or pay-off. And when you put them next to delights like Numbers, TLS or The First Time those comparative flaws were glaring.

I loved his short "The Oram County Whoosit". I loved Tragic Life Stories. The two were nothing at all alike.

I will be reading a lot more of his stuff.
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Reading Progress

20.0% "The first story is a really brilliant meta-narrative about the nature of escapism and the morality of the what we choose to enjoy. It even plays with the established nature of what can be considered "horror". Really, really impressed."
30.0% "Second story was a real let down. Brooding sense of dread and wrongness, then it goes nowhere at all at the end. Huh."
46.0% "Two more stories in. A man meets Death and a girl from the Valley runs into some builders who deal with The Fabric. His writing is absolutely superb but there are real difficulties with the pay-offs. Whether that's just horror in general or a failing on his part I can't say."
73.0% "3 more down. 2 brave attempts to update the oldest clichés that didn't quite make it ("A man who is me?" And "But You Were a Ghost All Along! WoooOOOooo") and a really peculiar sideways look at gender roles and patriarchy in the form of a short story about dream-catching that I'm not entirely sold on.

I'm coming across awfully negative, but that the lad is aiming this high is seriously impressive."
84.0% "Whoof."

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Leslee (new)

Leslee Have you read any Douglas Clegg? I think his novels are okay but he has some really great horror short stories, White Chapel being my absolute favourite. I think horror novels very rarely work actually, horror is a genre that lends itself very well to short stories and novellas because it's hard to sustain a proper level of terror and creepiness through a full length novel. I'll have to check Steve Duffy out.

Gavin I have not but he will go on my list. And yeah, from my experiences with horror, the short story/novella length novels are generally far stronger than the full length dealies.

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