Science fiction and fantasy
Remember Why You Fear Me
by Robert Shearman
There are a lot of very good stories in this collection, and Damned If You Don't is one of my favourites. A timid man is stuck in a very polite version of Hell, where he has to share a room with Adolf Hitler's dog. "When he told me to fetch a stick, I was just following orders," the dog says. The story is full of quips like that. It's observant, and increasingly absurd, particularly when the overcrowding in Hell gets excessive. This story has a fantastically subtle yet nasty twist.
Several of the tales are based on quite absurd premises. There's a woman who gives birth to furniture, a world where cats are killed by being photographed, a woman who gives her husband his heart back in a Tupperware box, and a world where people die at different times for different members of their family. Robert Shearman is fond of distorting the rules of reality to make his points. One of the things I really enjoyed about these stories is the way their points are deliberate and often very hard-hitting, and the unusual scenarios mean they are also very memorable.
The spider in Custard Cream certainly comes into this category. It's huge and disgusting, so the story is viscerally creepy, but when we realise what it stands for the tale becomes truly horrific. Shearman pulls no punches in this one. Granny's Grinning is another gross-out tale with a shocking ending, in which Christmas with a grumpy, recently-bereaved gran descends into horror.
In Alice Through The Plastic Sheet some neighbours realise they don't know each other as well as one lot think they do. Shearman proves he's good at showing us subtle anti-hero perspectives in this tale, and it's a beautifully observed look at prejudice.
Stories that didn't work so well for me were Featherweight and Blue Crayon, Yellow Crayon. Featherweight features a car accident that descends into a horror involving hungry cannibal cherubs, but I couldn't work out what the point of it was. It's clearer what Blue Crayon, Yellow Crayon is about, but not where dreams end and reality begins in its narrative.
The afterword is actually just another story about a fictional version of the author. It's characteristic of Shearman to keep readers off-balance and questioning everything, even the end-pieces, and Stephen Jones' introduction is equally untrustworthy. This is a playful, inventive, and witty collection, which is often sharply satirical.
6th November 2013
If you like this, try:Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall
A woman replaces her heart with a clock, a child is given a martyr for her birthday, and a woman discovers a lost manuscript written inside her skin in this collection of short stories.
Automatic Safe Dog by Jet McDonald
Telby Velour is an executive who wants to prove himself to the woman of his dreams. But how long can he pretend to be something he isn't?
The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 21 by Stephen Jones
This anthology showcases a varied selection of modern horror. Featuring stories by Joe Hill and Stephen King, Barbara Roden, Ramsey Campbell, Simon Strantza, Rosalie Parker, Robert Shearman, and more.
Review © Ros Jackson
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