A collection of weird and unsettling

You Shall Never Know Security ★★★
J.R. Hamantaschen
West Pigeon Press, 2011

securityAvailable Now (Amazon, Barnes & Noble)

Solid collection of unsettling and weird (with a capital W) short stories. Before I scribble down my 2 cents worth, I want to put a plug in for Crowinator’s review. It was her review that brought the book to my attention and made me want to read it. I also love how she breaks down all the stories and gives you a chance to figure out if this collection is for you or not. And hey, the best part??? If you feel like taking a chance, the ebook is on sale right now for 0.99 cents. That is some serious bang for your buck. What have you got to lose?

Love the title and the cover. These things should never be underestimated. Each on their own has the power to persuade readers to read. I find the big publishing houses are getting lazy of late, or they’ve stopped caring, or they’ve sacrificed their creative marketing departments to save on the bottom line; whatever the reason, most of their covers suck or at the very least are uninspired. But the smaller, independent presses? They know they are fighting for their lives and our attention and dollars. Proof is in the covers, and in their willingness to approve some pretty audacious titles. Evidence please? Book covers are clickable to Goodreads.

I don’t even need to know what these books are about to want to read them. But maybe that’s just the magpie in me.

J.R. Hamantaschen’s collection of short stories has great titles that almost tell a story in and of themselves. He’s also got the patter of Weird down without being overtly obnoxious about it, or coming across as trying too hard. Yet these stories feel modern and young, so much so that some of the awkward word choices just felt right anyway in spite of themselves. Like any small press/independent work, it is rough in places and could do with some editorial spit and polishing, but overall it reads very clean.

The author has a unique and distinctive voice that excels in creating unsettling and/or haunting images. Crowinator refers to the writing as “cryptic and suggestive” and I agree. The stories are more about allowing the reader to think the worst, providing our imagination an opportunity to flex its muscles.

More than titles or prose, what really made these stories hum for me were the ideas behind them. A good story idea that hasn’t been regurgitated a thousand times in a thousand different ways is hard to come by. Hamantaschen must have a tree growing in his back yard where he can go pick one off it any time he chooses. My favorites include:

Endemic: a nasty little story about rape and misogyny and the creation of a device to ensnare men in the act. Mixing sci-fi elements with that twist of horror and Weird, this story becomes the next evolution of To Catch a Predator.

A Parasite Inside Your Brain: I loved this one just because the idea of something crawling inside my head and laying eggs there creeps me out more than any other concept. This is a nice riff on the classic
Night Gallery
episode, but with a very different outcome. In a more serious way I find its dealing with depression and perhaps questioning whether your doctor always knows best a refreshing angle.

Come In, Distraction: I can’t put my finger on what I enjoyed so much about this one, and I can’t really talk too much about it without ruining the surprise. I guess I loved the slow creep as it builds to its reveal. This English wanker — is he exploiting, or is he being exploited in turn? I would say both really. The subtleties work here extremely well, but I longed to know more…those loooooong arms (shudder). Here’s where your imagination has to flex its muscles.

Sorrow Has Its Natural End: this one worked for me only because it tapped into my other primal fear, which is going blind. I have bad eyesight as it is and have worn glasses since childhood. I am remiss in my checkups and have floaters that could indicate a high risk of retinal detachment (wow, I just made myself sound really sexy there, didn’t I?) This story is about a guy whose retinas detach in both eyes making him nearly blind. But he has a lead on a cure.

Jordan, When Are You Going to Settle Down, Get Married and Have Us Some Children?: okay, I have to include this one because the idea is so extreme, outrageous and funny in a dark and horrible way. There’s a Seinfeld episode where George is out on a date with a woman in her apartment and finds himself really needing to go number 2. But her little bathroom, with no buffer zone, is not going to give him the privacy he knows he will need. This story is that situation except with unimaginable results.

There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere: great title, the longest story in the collection, and my favorite. The set-up is three desperate, frightened people hiding out in a closet from some unnamed threat. As the story progresses it is revealed how they ended up in the closet, what they’re hiding from, and how they escape. Survival will come at a high price. This one gave me the heebie-jeebies.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

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