Tuesday 9 October 2012

Review: You Shall Never Know Security by J.R. Hamantaschen

Can you judge a writer on how good his story titles are? Probably not, but let's just play the game for a little bit. Scanning the contents page of J.R. Hamantaschen's d√©but collection You Shall Never Know Security (a nifty title in itself) I see stories called:

Sorrow Has Its Natural End
There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere
There Is A Family of Gnomes Behind My Walls, And I Swear I Won't Disappoint Them Any Longer

Speaking as a writer whose titles often leave me vaguely unsatisfied, the sight leaves me envious and not a little grumpy.

Anyway. The stories in this volume of dark fiction are a varied bunch in terms of outward plot and action: parasites in brains; John Rawls; vaguely Lovecraftian horrors; and ingenious plans to trap rapists all feature. However there is a tone, a philosophical strain of pessimism, common to all the tales here. Too many authors nowadays miss the point that Lovecraft's stories were written because he had a view of the world he wanted to articulate, rather than just a penchant for tentacled thingamabobs that could drive men dotty. Thomas Ligotti similarly has a point to his stories, albeit one we may not want to hear. J.R. Hamantaschen strikes me as the same kind of writer.

If I'm honest, sometimes the 'message' was too jarringly obvious for me - the action and characters occasionally too flimsy constructs for ideas invested in them. And the prose is dense with modifiers and descriptions of internal moods, such that occasionally that style seems to come unmoored from the prosaic need to convey what is going on. But these are not major gripes.

The best stories here are impressive and original; my favourites were: A Lower Power, which told the story of a supernatural relationship which goes horribly sour at the end; Come In Distraction, a story which seems just to be about the chat-up power of a British accent until the horribly disturbing back-story comes to the fore; and the aforementioned There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere a novella of supernatural terror and its aftermath, which I took to be a metaphor for survivor's guilt.

Nice cover, too.


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