Hamantaschen’s (You Shall Never Know Security, 2011) latest collection of twisted tales once again explores the dark side of human nature.
Rather appropriately, “Vernichtungsschmerz” kick-starts this book of nine outlandish, unnerving stories. In it, a creature in a dream offers teenage Julia a way to escape the pain of a natural death, a perfect example of the author toying with the horror genre. Creatures are often metaphors; in the opening tale, the reason behind a monster’s arrival takes precedence over a human’s natural urge to shudder or flee. Some stories may show signs of genre convention, but they ultimately unravel in gleefully unconventional ways. In “Soon Enough This Will Essentially Be a True Story,” a crazed writer is irate that noted online reviewer Karen hasn’t critiqued his book, yet she may be the one who gets a happy ending. Bryce, meanwhile, in “I’m a Good Person, I Mean Well and I Deserve Better,” makes an unlikely hero, but just because he saves the damsel in distress doesn’t mean he gets the girl. There’s an overwhelming sense of dread among all the characters, be it a general fear of death or, in the case of Miles in “It’s Not Feelings of Anxiety; It’s One, Constant Feeling: Anxiety,” fear that he may not be the family man for Miranda and 18-month-old Craig. At the same time, readers may dread social worker Alex’s learning why his unemployed, constantly pregnant client, Gloria, seems to be well-off in “The Gulf of Responsibility.” While Hamantaschen sometimes subverts garden-variety monsters or villains, a callback to an earlier story in “Oh Abel, Oh Absalom” implies an inexorable, omniscient evil that’s perhaps had its hand in more than just those two tales. Many of the playful titles are a smidge overlong, but the author easily churns out penetrating, somber prose: “So the promise of painless escape went unexplored, so abominable; so abhorrent was that option, as if death would never come unless it was a choice proactively taken.”
Perturbing, anomalous stories that will bore into readers’ minds.