Monday, January 18, 2016

one of the most bizarre (but really, really good) anthologies ever: With a Voice that is Often Still Confused But is Becoming Ever Louder and Clearer (breath), by J.R. Hamantaschen

copyright J.R. Hamantaschen, 2015
298 pp


In the intro to this book, the author says the following:

"If you happen to visit the New York City metropolitan area and want to grab coffee, feel free to shoot me an e-mail. Assuming you are not an asshole, of course."  I may take him up on his offer if I'm ever in NYC, just to pick his brain as to how in the hell he came up with this material. Oh my god.    And I can't resist the urge to meet someone whose pen name is the same as my husband's favorite childhood cookies (made by his granny, of course).

There are nine stories in this bizarre but really, really good anthology, and from the moment it opens with a big bang in his "Vernichtungsschmerz"  until the final page of "It's Not Feelings of Anxiety; It's One Constant Feeling: Anxiety," the book is simply unputdownable.  Actually, if he'd given the name of the last story to this collection, it wouldn't be far off the mark -- this book is just loaded with anxieties of all sorts, and while not quite as dark, there's a general feel (at least to me) of some of Ligotti's work running underneath these stories. Then again, the story about the goodreads reviewer "Soon Enough This Will Essentially Be a True Story" had enough of a funny, snarky, sarcastic edge that just made me laugh. I'm not one to generally think serial killer stories are laughable, but the main character reminds me of so many people on goodreads and on other social media as well who produce an out and out eye roll when I see their posts --  and the author caught that vibe spot on.  Well, that and the book titles ...

I'm not going to go into each and every story here -- many people writing online have done that, but this book is most definitely something readers should experience for themselves. I will say that the beauty of this collection is in the author's ability to take mundane, normal situations and twist them so that by the time I was not even midway through each one, I started getting those stomach knots that for  me tend to signal some sort of impending doom on the horizon.

The contents are as follows:

"Vernichtungsschmerz" -- in which the promise of "painless escape" rears its head but ...
"A Related Corollary" -- another depressing story about depression
"The Gulf of Responsibility" -- which I might add, is downright creepy and one of my very favorites of the collection along with its sort of sequel "Oh Abel, Oh Absalom"
"Big With the Past, Pregnant with the Future" -- affirmative action and elitism turned on their heads in a very, very big way
"Soon Enough This Will Essentially Be a True Story" -- trust me, anyone reading this book knows or at least is familiar with the main character of this one
"I'm A Good Person, I Mean Well and I Deserve Better" -- made me squirm in my chair many, many times (after laughing at the beginning, it wasn't funny any more)
"Cthulhu, Zombies, Ninjas and Robots!; or, a Special Snowflake in an Endless Scorching Universe" -- think William Shatner telling trekkies to get a life; oh my god. I know someone who would absolutely love this story.
"Oh Abel, Oh Absalom"
"It's Not Feelings of Anxiety; It's One Constant Feeling: Anxiety" -- another omg moment reading this story -- sheesh!

I defy anyone to come away from this book without even a slight frisson of horror or creepiness  running up his or her spine; like the very best modern dark fiction/horror/weird fiction authors out there, Hamantaschen has a way of commenting on our societal anxieties and fears without having to spell it out or get in one's face about it.  The thing is, a reader won't  clue into just how uneasy this author makes him/her feel until that twisty but personal moment in every story that resonates with having been there, seen that -- and that's seriously how it should be.

Oh yeah. I'm certainly passing my recommendation on to anyone who will listen.

Now, about that coffee.....

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