Short Story Review: “In the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden” by Sunny Singh

4 of 5 stars.

The easiest of romances is the distant crush, the imagination’s relationship with a stranger. It gives pleasant (albeit false) memories and adds a bit of happiness to an otherwise lonely reality. This is the tale of a distant crush, a wordless crush. A crush of routine and inferred meaning.

Graham lives a lonely, guarded life–half out of necessity. He works in intelligence, switching up his routes through town, sticking to the foods and drinks and patterns that he’s used to. He notices when things change–that’s what makes him good at his job. He establishes a pattern in his home neighborhood of London, of finishing a crossword on a bench in the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden–always the same bench–and then heading to his quiet pub for a single pint.

One Spring a woman alights on his bench and reads for a spell. Then some weeks later, she comes again. And he notices. Soon, he expects her arrival and notices her aged, simple beauty. But they don’t talk, nor even share a glance. But he crushes on her.

One day, he catches her name when she takes a phone call–Catherine. But he doesn’t use it. However, eventually they learn to say Goodbye to each other. And later yet, Hello . . .

The organic growth of the relationship of strangers is beautifully depicted, as is the interplay between Graham external and internal lives.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Mother by Philip Fracassi

MOTHERMOTHER by Philip Fracassi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The emotional nuances of a relationship falling apart condense first into an eeriness before solidifying into a full blown horror fest. A relationship going bad follows the illogical, meandering paths of the participants’ imaginations. First, it’s the little irritations and angers that one can barely put one’s finger on. On the flip side, as things go sour, there are the little excuses one tells oneself trying to take an optimistic stand. The contradiction is compellingly depicted here.

From the start, Howard narrates with honesty and foreboding:

I know Julie loved me once. I know it as fact, like the warmth of sunshine on my skin.

. . . We married the day after graduation, exchanging vows in the campus church . . . All of our friends attended. It is a day I will never forget, because it was the happiest we ever were. The happiest we would ever be.

The demise of the marriage of Howard and Julie tilts and careens recklessly from silent truce to grating bitterness. Howard’s obvious obliviousness to his own antiquated sexism erodes Julie’s respect for him despite his successful career. Her own lack of success fuels her insecurities.

Despite the clear breakdown, the couple decide to have a baby in an effort to mend the family. Because that never goes wrong . . .

Not that this is an “American Beauty” style domestic horror. It’s not, despite Howard’s affair. No, when the horror comes, it’s Lovecraftian or Kafkaesque in nature. Transformative, irreversible horror.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’d previously read his excellent horror novella, Altar.
 
 
 
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Graphic Release: Genesis V by Double Take

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With the June release of Genesis IV, I praised the sheer number and intensity of social issues raised about privilege, race, gender and sexuality. Set against the backdrop of 1960’s middle America, the contemporary issues rang clear. The series even provided neutral voices in the form of non-Earth beings. If there was any major complaint to be made about the series that drops 10 simultaneous issues together in the Genesis package, it’s that the confluence of zombie lore, mutant superhero lore and alien lore all melding in a single series was indubitably confusing for a single read-through, or five.

This 5th installment to the series addresses the confusion by providing a helpful recap narrator, Kevin, at the start of each issue. He manages to sum up that title’s major characters and their arcs, while providing clarity on previous ambiguities of which there were plenty. He also pulls the separate titles together contextually.

What doesn’t happen is–anything.

With the series finale coming within the next month or so, all the undead meat has apparently been saved for later. Some of the titles even take a serious step back as they merely provide altered perspectives on events already seen in episode #4. The clarity is welcome, but could also have come throughout the series allowing each issue to grind forward.

I’ve previously read Genesis I, Genesis II, and Genesis III.

Short Story Review: “Rose’s, Woolrich” by Paul Ewen

2 of 5 stars.

Pubs hold a special place in society, whether celebrated or reviled. They can be either a microcosm of the city they service fielding a full cross-section of the community, or a filter separating the classes. A little alcohol lubrication and the mix of close quarters and ample people is a recipe for a chemical reaction–possibly explosive, at other times romantic.

This vignette shows the busy mid-Friday pubs of the Woolrich neighborhood in South London before focusing on the quietly ignored Rose’s with its half dozen staunch patrons. The narrator doesn’t seem to have a friend in the establish, nor even really knows how to uphold his end of the social contract. He’s arrogant and snide, and yet waxes poetic on the one non-human in the pub, the caged Australian frilled lizard.

Then, in a series of blatant metaphors, he compares the pub to the lizard cage and the patrons to lizards. As he extends the metaphor, he also explains it just in case anybody missed the analogy that’s in no way subtle.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Soft on the Inside” by Noo Saro-Wiwa

1 of 5 stars.

One of the great philosophical debates surrounds the nature of a soul and its relationship to the body. Then, the question lingers as to whether whatever is true, is true for animals as well as humans.

This tale starts to embark on the latter of these discussions before veering off into the plot of what could be an ill-thought out kids’ movie. Inexplicably, the taxidermied animals of a shop come to life for twelve hours and know they have only twelve hours. They decide that the dog and a couple squirrels will embark on an adventure to get revenge on their taxidermist. The caper skirts over the neighborhoods of London and the multiple public transportation vehicles used to get there. . .

Animals talking and thinking and snarking like humans sometimes works, especially in children’s stories and allegories. This is neither.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Altar by Philip Fracassi

ALTARALTAR by Philip Fracassi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The mundanity of suburbia with its micro-dramas beneath the surface strikes a realistic if not nostalgic look at the rite of passage that is the summertime visit to the community swimming pool. Then, horror descends upon the scene–true, unfathomable, Lovecraftian horror. The contrast, without warning nor transition makes the ensuing insanity all the more horrible in the true sense of the word.

This tale follows three POV characters in their typical summer day trip to the local pool. 12 y.o. Gary, accompanied by his single-mother-with-a-drinking-problem and his 15 y.o. sister whom he idolizes, has all of the pubescent insecurities expected for one his age. His mother provides a second POV providing a bit more depth into her side of the contentious divorce her cheating husband is putting her through. Her urges to smoke and drink are every bit what Gary imagines.

A third POV is provided by Tyler, unrelated to and unknown by the other 2 narrators. Young Tyler navigates the pool by himself without his mother paying any attention and with just the water wings she provided to keep him safe. He’s the first to notice the large crack split the pool from side to side . . .

Containing the narration to the character POVs and very “in-the-moment” experiences is particularly effective and shocking as normalcy descends into an apocalyptic chaos. This tale is highly recommended for horror and Lovecraft fans.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Original Poetry: “The Puzzle of Me”

Make a mental note to not avow
things I’ve said in the past
when I’ve the chance
to change my mind
and still to lead this dance.
It is a darkened hour.

Come to me in all futility.
I never promised ease,
yet still come on to me.
But not too close
or we’ll topple, assuredly.

Give me the strength to change
my mind and my clothes.
And to accept the fact that I am fickle.
I pity you sitting here
contemplating my puzzle.
 
 
 
 
 
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