I’m very late posting this. Give me slap on the wrist, please, because I ate up this collection on VICTORIA DAY when real, honest-to-god sunshine was just starting to exist again. I didn’t know how badly I needed that warmer weather until it was halfway through the weekend. My whole body finally relaxed, coaxed into a slothy laziness I hadn’t experienced in a long long time. Thankfully, the summer has been an ongoing stretch of lovely weather, but at the time I really needed that reminder of summer simplicity: a camp fire, a barbecue, a patio, Peterborough and cottage country (aka: home). I got all of that on Victoria Day weekend, and just happened to be carrying Andrew Forbes’ new short story collection from Invisible Publishing along for the day. What You Need was the perfect compliment for this kind of beachy weekend, though it’s much more of a layered, visceral “anti-beach read” meant to make you stop and let it all sink in.
Andrew Forbes‘ debut collection begins like you’ve just asked the quiet guy in the corner to tell you a story, and he does, without fanfare or flourish, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. He just let’s the words unfold, and it’s somehow the most interesting thing you’ve heard all week. Forbes is a quiet, humble dude in the corner, and his thoughtful stories seem to flow effortlessly from him (this is also probably a solid nod to Invisible’s excellent editorial team). These stories are well worth hearing.
I need miniature heartbreaks and little bursts of high school nostalgia (I Was A Willow). I need bold reminders of my small town (Jamboree). I also need (love and appreciate) more stories that don’t assume I’m a total moron who won’t “get it” if the moral of the story isn’t flashing in front of me in neon lights. And – cue publishing geek-out moment – I need more beautiful little books from Invisible, whose style and substance never let me down. Honestly, Leigh, if you wanna send me your front and backlist, I’d happily dedicate a whole shelf to those beauties.
I am not a big horror fan. Movie-wise anyways. I didn’t grow up watching Texas Chainsaw or Saw, except when I was forced to at sleepovers and didn’t want to seem like a chicken. Even then, I was a master at hiding behind my hands. It’s not that I don’t like to be scared, I just don’t like being jolted. Thankfully, horror literature has all the creepy crawly fun of the genre without making you leap out of your skin. Moving on from the likes of Tony Burgess and Joe Hill, I knew I needed to read The Troop by Nick Cutter, a Simon and Schuster release from a literary Canlit novelist who has adopted a pseudonym for this truly revolting story of nature versus science.
5 teenaged Boy Scouts and their Scoutmaster go to an small uninhabited island off the coast of PEI for a weekend camping trip, something they’ve been doing for years. But the evening they arrive, a mysterious and sickly man appears on the island as well…. Straight away, we know that this is a classic case of the wrong-place-wrong-time scenario where isolation and human psychology are met with something very unnatural, causing a desperate fight for survival.
Vague much? I know, I know. But I don’t want to give too much away since, as usual, I didn’t know anything about the story before I started reading it and it made for a thrilling and thoroughly chilling experience. That is the beauty of a “story of terror”, because terror, as a rule, lies in the unknown. Do yourself a favour and leave the details unspoiled. What I will say though is that for a novel that initially focuses itself on hunger, it totally destroyed my appetite. Like, beat-up-and-shredded-to-pieces-RUINED for a good 24 hours. The Troop is not to be read before dinnertime, as Steven Beattie rightfully warned me. It’s also not for the squeamish. Cutter is graphic in every sense of the word: detailed, shocking, and very effective. You can really chew on his descriptions (not that you would want to based on the subject matter). Though his characters may have started out like the quintessential Boy Scout stereotypes (the nerd, the jock, the weirdo, the mental case) they quickly become rounded by stories from their pasts and the individual reactions to their awful situation. This is exactly the kind of writer that you want when you’re embarking on a creepy, disgusting journey. Someone who not only presents his story seamlessly, but is also able to describe every little off-putting inch of his world with excitable ease. Reading The Troop, you are truly strapped in for the ride. With a sense of foreboding obvious within a few short pages, the story never slows down and neither will you.
Apparently I’m on a short story kick lately, and that is definitely not a bad thing… with short fiction collections, you can sneak in a story or two in the morning, like Steph @ Bella’s Bookshelves, or on your lunch break if you’re me. It’s a perfect way to add a bit of lit to your day, especially if it’s canlit. Speaking of sneaking, Eat Your Heart Out, a collection of stories from newcomer Katie Boland is definitely a sneaky bunch. Coming to you from West coast publisher Brindle and Glass, it’s got a lot of love, a little death, some confused longing and a serious splash of muddled emotions that make up the brunt of these tales. I admired how Boland uses emotional situations in non-emotional ways. Instead of letting the sap – often reserved for love stories or lonely hearts clubs – run out all over the place, she writes almost matter-of-factly, and leaves a lot of the “feeling” up to the reader. These are some seriously lonely characters: full of regret, cowardice, and stubborn attitudes. You only get a glimpse into their lives but its enough so that you’re left wondering what might happen at the end of these personal shit-storms, brewing like hurricanes in mason jars.
I wouldn’t expect any less in the dialogue department from a screenwriter/actress, and so I thought it was expertly done. Other reviews have cited some shortcomings in Boland’s prose, but I didn’t find any of it hindering to the overall effect of her stories. I thought they were mesmerizing.
Stories to look out for are Mama, Monster and The Falling Action. Short and bittersweet, Eat Your Heart Out is a collection that turns the red, meaty inside out and that’s definitely something worth reading.