Will Byrnes's Reviews > You Shall Never Know Security

You Shall Never Know Security by J.R.  Hamantaschen
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Jul 19, 12

bookshelves: horror, short-stories
Read in July, 2012

Updated - 7/19/12 - see link at bottom

When I got into work at 11:30pm that night, the first words I heard were, "Hey, Byrnes, a package came for you. It's in the closet." I had no idea what Nic was talking about. I put my Red Bull and Vitamin Water in the pint-sized fridge at the back of the office, and then settled in at the dispatch desk. I would have asked him about the delivery, but all I had left of Nic, our late day dispatcher, was a fleeting glimpse as the outer door closed behind him. The phones started ringing before I was even able to get my shoes off. That was an improvement. Some nights they started before I even reached the seat. My schedule is like a barbell, heavy at both ends and somewhat thin in the middle. By the time I looked up from the early rush it was 1:30am.

It came back to me then, the package. The closet is conveniently located in the wall adjacent to the dispatch desk. All I had to do was swivel and open. It began to seep back into my ancient gray cells then. I had received a message from the author on GR, noting that I had liked a GR-bud's review of his book. He had a new one coming out and thought I might be a good person to take a look at his year-old release, maybe build some awareness for the new one. We exchanged a message or two re where it might be sent, and settled on my office. J.R. was feeling unwell during our exchange. I would later wonder where he might have contracted an illness, here or some unknowable there, and whether by the time I posted a review he might still be with us. Not because I take all that long to write these pieces, but because…oh, never mind.

I maintain a steady flow of incomings, typically reading several books at once. While I may read quickly enough, I review slowly. I promised to get to his as soon as I finished my current load.

The book is published by the West Pigeon Press. We have had for the last several months a considerable population of pigeons on our north-facing terrace, and know what they can do. Oh, the horror! WPP conjured up the wrong image for me, dark and miserable, but wrong. I checked out the publisher's web site. http://www.westpigeonpress.com.

We learn there that J.R. is a part-time writer, maintains no personal web site and changes his surname frequently. What is he afraid of? Who or what might be in pursuit? One might presume then that the current iteration, "Hamantaschen" might be regarded as a nom de prune, a tasty interlude to something a bit more fear-inducing. On reading the book it might not seem unreasonable that he wants to keep a low profile. There are things out there, and if he is letting the rest of us know, they might take exception so he probably should maintain a low profile.

With a hundred calls a night, it is a difficult thing to read much at work, even during slow times. That is too bad, as this is the sort of book one should definitely read while alone in a building during the wee hours, when inexplicable, but probably innocent noises intrude into one's consciousness. I managed to squeeze in a story or two, reading the rest over the next week, in bed before sleeping, at the laundromat, in the living room before the ridiculous June/July heat became too much. But maybe spacing it out allows one a bit of time to digest. "Jesus, Billy, chew your food."

One final caveat. Although I have read a reasonable number of horror books over the years, almost all of King, a fair number of the classic older tales, and certainly a goodly portion of Lovecraft, I am not very much a current reader of horror. I have never read the zines in which the author has published many of these pieces. I am not familiar with the contemporary horror fiction scene. Thus, I may not be sensitive to elements that scream out at those more familiar with the horror genre of today. Also, I am far from J.R.’s target demographic, so references to unfamiliar terminology had me heating up my computer, searching. So be it.

There are thirteen tales here, maybe an ideal number for a horror collection. They vary in length and impact, but show a creative (or maybe damaged) mind at work, demonstrating enough insight to matter, and offering up some fun images. Some are tastier and more filling than others. They are peppered with generous shakes of Lovecraft. At least two stories go so far as to use the word “eldritch,” a word I have never seen used outside a Lovecraft story. I have not checked, but would not be surprised if those stories were first published in zines dedicated to Lovecraftian fiction.

The rear cover of the book refers to “Thirteen Stories of Truly Dark Fiction.” It seems to me that horror is horror, and that adding “Truly Dark” is gilding a lily, but again that might be promotional nomenclature particular to this area of interest.

In many of the stories, the intent clearly was to present an image, and not always force that into a beginning-middle-end structure. Don't go looking for dominant-tonic resolutions in most of these stories. But a good image is good enough if well done. Scary does not necessarily care about a well crafted denouement. It helps if the presentations are understandable. Getting too abstract can be a hindrance to appreciation. The short story is not a form conducive to much deep character development, so we have to rely primarily on the ideas, the images presented to carry the load. Then the question becomes are they, those images and ideas, up to the task.

Sometimes yes and sometimes not so much.

“Come in Distraction” presents an image of Great Britain infested with a disease that transforms people into very Lovecraftian beasties, with vine-like thirty-foot arms. Definitely a chilling image. In “Jordan, When Are You Going To Settle Down, Get Married and Have Us Some Children?” J.R. reaches new heights, or depths, in conjuring a horrifying and very personal image of a problem with one’s own body. This is definitely one that will stay with you, no shit. “There is a Family of Gnomes Behind My Walls, And I swear I Won’t Disappoint Them Any Longer” is probably the most Lovecraftian, reminding me of The Music of Eric Zann. Two young men search for a portal to another dimension in a loft wall. In a lesser example, “Truth is Stranger Than Fiction,” we are told of an unfriendly critter via court papers. The monster remained too ill-defined for me and the court paper mechanism did not work well.

Irony figures in a few stories, as one might expect in a collection of tales written by a twenty-something New Yorker. In “A Parasite Inside Your Brain“ an alien invasion of a small kind yields a delicious turn, as does “Endemic,” in which a plan to catch sex offenders with androids yields unexpected consequences.

He likes to refer to his critters, sometimes keeping them off screen, in a way. “In Truth is Stranger than Fiction” we learn through court papers of a rapacious flying thing, as described by a witness. “Come in Distraction” also keeps us at one remove from the critters, as we hear about them from third parties, but are never really there. Ditto in “Family of Gnomes.”

Sexuality is a bit of trouble in J.R.s fictional universe. In “A Lower Power” a woman takes as a lover a really, really bad boy. In “Wonder” the narrator gloats over having infected a man who rejected him with something far worse than an STD. In “There’s Always Something…” “it had come to occupy Josh through Josh’s dick…” never a pleasant way to acquire an alien presence, but maybe a way of commenting on the source of a lot of the unpleasantness that follows. In the same story one character manages to alienate those attending a wedding by announcing in response to whether he was having a good time, “It’s better than sucking cocks.” Aaaawkward. “There Must Be Lights Burning…” includes an element that might be interpreted as a sexual reference, something phallic protruding from a critter, and doing no one any good.

Sometimes, the stories have elements that cause us to pause in our suspension of disbelief. “Sorrow Has its Natural End” presents a fascinating look at a character in search of medical help, but then tells us something very significant about him without offering any explanation at all. This deus ex machina needed some oil. Also, one of the longer pieces, “There’s Always Something in The Misfortune Of Our Friends That Doesn’t Displease Us,” offered an interesting concept, but it seemed way too concept-y to me and left me gazing in from too far a distance.

There are a couple of stories here that struck me as throw-aways. “College” offers up a concrete image of how one’s choices in life affect others, and what might our values actually be worth. The other, “Nothing “ contemplates our position in the world, offering a different view. Somehow it just never pulled me in.

Saving the best for last, I was most impressed with “There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter Somewhere.” It could have begun, Ok, a monster walks into a bar. And indeed one does, wreaking havoc, without a by your leave or a take me to your leader, or can I have a pint of whatever. It is a very Lovecrafted monster, with a deadly white bone-like protuberance that set my Freudian sensors all atingle, particularly when three characters hide in a closet. One of the three does something, while under the power of the creature. But, and here is where the sophistication comes in, it is the aftermath that is of interest in the story. Many years later, survivor’s guilt, PTSD, something that leads to an attempt to find the truth of the events of that day, now so long ago. This is the story that made me think that J.R. might do well to consider a longer form. I thought his characterization here took on a richer life, and was the most engaging story of the baker’s dozen and balanced character and concept best.

There are instances of acute observation here that demonstrated some licks
the relationship had taken on a life of its own, and it only desired a subsistence existence. Their relationship desired nothing other than self-preservation. Their relationship consisted of nothing but exposition, directions, and commands. Action words. No digressions or detours. All their time together was about feeding “the relationship” and not about enjoying each other’s company.
Really, people, how many of us have lived that exact thing? And then maybe the truly dark fiction aspect might be captured not so much in the zoological garden with which he populates his stories, but in:
“You keep telling yourself that every setback you encountered was building up to something worthwhile. That you were going to be redeemed. You aren’t. This is it.”
Life’s a bitch and then you die. That would be the cheery version. This author’s version might be more like life’s a bitch and they you are torn limb from limb by an inexplicable being from Lovecraft’s nightmares, while telling the beast you love it. Have a nice day. But there is a lot of non-Lovecraftian horror in these stories as well. How about coming back from the dead and finding that you are still stuck living with your mother? How about feeling that your entire life was wasted? How about feeling that you have tried and failed, or not tried and thus guaranteed failure. Or that you have been running away all your life from something you really, really need to confront. That is horror that can hit close to home. Despair. A Peggy Lee lament about the dissatisfaction of life. That is the strength here. A promise of good things to come. Not dark at all but rather bright.

PS - I came across more type-setting and editing miscues than are usual. Dr. Moody on p 19 becomes D. Moony by p 30, for example. The occasional sentence makes no sense. The next go round will need a better extra pair of eyes to smooth out such wrinkles.


UPDATE

7/19/12 - There is a wonderful reading of the story Wonder in an audio magazine called Drabblecast. It is the middle of three stories in the episode.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Traveller (new)

Traveller I'm quite curios of your opinion on this one.


Will Byrnes I will finish reading it in a day or two, but it is second in line for being reviewed behind Indiscretion. I read quickly enough, but I review very slowly, unfortunately.


message 3: by Steve (new)

Steve Well done, Will.

Did you intentionally wait until Friday the 13th to review this?


Will Byrnes I have been struggling with it for almost two weeks. Short stories reviewing is not in my wheelhouse, and I wanted to do the best I could as the young author had sent me the book and I respect that daring.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Will wrote: "Hamantaschen" might be regarded as a nom de prune...

You. Must. DIE. For. That. Pun.


message 6: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten A glimpse into the world of Will. Great job!! I know how much a pain short story collections can be to review.


message 7: by Will (last edited Jul 21, 2012 10:51PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes I vunder vut it vould be like to be really dead


message 8: by Will (last edited Jul 21, 2012 10:53PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Really, guys, listen to the Drabblecast audio. Great stuff.

And Richard,

You. know. how. to. make. me. very. very. happy!

I need a sandwich board sign announcing that I will pun for groans.

Thanks, JK. Shorts can be a struggle. It is like reviewing 13 books at once. "Take human bites" (no, not bites of humans) or "Stop stuffing your mouth with those things."


Will Byrnes Thanks, Brian.


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