Hamantaschen’s collection of short stories plumbs the nature of evil.
The collection is aptly named—each story inspires a sickening feeling of danger. The various plots often revolve around characters’ recognition and subsequent disavowal of a part of themselves. In “A Lower Power,” for example, Keith carries a literal monster inside him. At times, he accepts the beast that resides within; at other times, it scares him. In another tale, the protagonist, Caitlin, finds an arachnid has burrowed into her brain. Instead of being repulsed, she accepts and internalizes it. Each short piece of fiction paints an unsettling, unsafe world. Monsters loom large: monsters inside us; monsters around us; evil beings that feed off insecurities and prejudices. As a society, we often label evil as unnatural, and those who commit evil acts are typically dehumanized. It’s a kind of defense mechanism, and it protects us from ourselves and our own culpability. Hamantaschen makes it clear that, if ever evil were an outside force, human beings have now thoroughly internalized it. It has become a part of us, whether we admit it or not. The monsters have entered our bodies, and they want blood. The ogres are various; they arrive in the forms of violence, obsession and depression, and they slowly seep into the characters’ consciousnesses. Some stories evoke pity or empathy; others just steep the reader in despair. That said, certain tropes repeat too often, and some themes are overdone. The prose remains conversational throughout, but it’s a conversation out of a ’50s French cafe, existential and abstract, such as this meditation on loneliness: “I refuse to bandy about lonely as some loose symbol, haphazardly imbued with the delicate meaning given to it by the temporarily (or fashionably) melancholy. When I say lonely, I hearken back to its traditional meaning as a mental state, a sensibility of isolation.” Some tales, such as “Jordan, When are You Going to Settle Down, Get Married and Have Us Some Children?” are sublimely bizarre.
A twisted, uneasy, satisfying book.