Characters battle loneliness and unsettling occurrences in this assortment of otherworldly poems and stories.
In the opening tale, “A Deal in the Dark,” Jenny’s childhood fear of the dark has returned. But while an apparent presence may render her trepidation tangible, her real fear is more psychological: being alone. Provost’s (Memortality, 2017, etc.) vivid characters throughout are similarly tortured. Jenny only has her brother, Andy, because their parents are dead, and Alex in “Mama” is shaken by a pendulum’s prediction of his mother’s death. In the same vein, individuals secluded by bouts of insomnia and nightmares are desperate for help: Robert Delvecchio seeks a palm reader in “Breaking the Cycle,” and Alana responds to a neurologist’s Facebook ad in “Teeth.” There are occasional glimpses of creatures, and Provost sticks mostly with the classics: vampires, ghosts, aliens, and even dragons. But trekking familiar terrain allows the author to deftly subvert readers’ expectations. “Lamp Unto My Fate,” for example, features a genie, complete with the tried-and-true moral of being careful what you wish for. But protagonist Maximus, a litigator, and the newly freed genie treat the wish-giving as a business deal, prompting some fun “verbal sparring.” Other instances of humor crop up but never fully dominate the book’s grim tone. Such is the case for the titular character in “Nightmare’s Eve (Rotten Robbie’s Christmas Comeuppance)”; his mischievous ways are a clue that his encounter with Santa likely won’t turn out well. Provost’s poetry varies in rhyming schemes but skillfully displays the same somber themes as the stories. Isolation, for one, is depicted in illustrative lines, as in “Lost at Sea”: “The mast falls like a hammer / The deck, it cracks and splinters / The North Wind howls and taunts me / With the breath of countless winters.” Fortunately, not all of the tales are filled entirely with dread. Some, like the closing story, “George & the Dragon: The Untold Story,” have uplifting moments amid all that death and solitude.
Worthy tales that prove external forces are no more terrifying than what’s inside people’s heads.