Title: Probably Monsters
Author: Ray Cluley
Genres: Fantasy | Horror | Paranormal | Science Fiction | Speculative Fiction | Short Stories
Length: 359 pages
Several horror short stories featuring all sorts of monsters.
These stories all have a few things in common: they are capable of infusing you with all sorts of feelings. Throughout them I was terrified, bemused, sad, cheated, baffled, nostalgic, amongst others I cannot really name.
I believe the strength of this book is that the line between reality and dream/supernatural/myth is stretched so very thin. Not many authors can do that with the artistry Mr Cluley presented us in this collection and I could tell he did quite a lot of research on some subjects.
There were all sorts of characters, with a huge range of age, sex, location, race and sexuality. I think there is something in each story that everyone can relate to. Some characters even appear normal, if quirky, and then the author flips it on you and you find out that maybe they are not, but sometimes cannot be really sure, or if there even is anything supernatural involved.
There were all sorts of themes too. I don’t believe I had ever seen an anthology with such diversity and yet a common theme.
Each of the stories was thought-provoking in their own way and entertained me as only the best horror can.
Only a collection of short stories as good as this could make me realize that this is simply not a genre I can do. In the end, even with such quality, most of them left me wanting and I did not particularly care for some endings.
They are short stories. There cannot be that much development and that just doesn’t seem to be something I can handle well. I did like some, even loved a couple, their endings included, but I always wanted more.
Alas, I absolutely loved the thought that every single one of us, given the right circumstances, can become a monster. And that bittersweet taste at the end of some stories, where I just asked myself what the heck had happened and how such a piece of writing could come out of a person’s mind assured me that, even though I don’t appreciate the genre, I can definitely appreciate quality.
The notes at the end of the book with comments on how the author was inspired to write each story were a welcome plus.
The stories I found most intense, and therefore enjoyed the most are The Festering, Bloodcloth and Beachcombing. I just realized reading this that the focus of each is a child. Definitely some of the most disturbing tales I have read feature children, but it’s the way Cluley did it that was so mesmerizing.
The author mentioned in the notes Tommy from Beachcombing is coming back in his novel Sullivan Dunn but I have not seen that one around. I would definitely like to read it, though, something a bit lengthier by the author.
A few thoughts on each tale:
This first story was quite intriguing. The protagonist is a man in his late 70s looking for something we are not quite sure what could possibly be. It’s like he has this inbuilt radar that will tell him where to look. Little by little we are fed the information we need but in such little pieces that it never really comes together until the end. A crafted built story and the ending was very eerie.
I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing
This one was very slow for me. There was a lot of talk about lobsters and mermaids and I kept wondering when it would get interesting.
Sadly, neither the story nor the characters kept me intrigued, but I did enjoy the setting and that the author tried to raise awareness to issues in Nicaragua.
This one was powerful. It was scary, creepy, disgusting and so, so sad. I felt disturbed reading the entire thing.
It is dreadful and horrifying that so much wrongness and anger could go around in a vicious circle.
At night, When the Demons Come
Not the best one to read when you wake up at 3am and can’t go back to sleep.
This one is a post-apocalyptic tale that is terrifying and makes you wonder what you would do to survive.
The writing is magnificent as usual and I did not see that ending coming.
Again I finished the story feeling immensely sad and disturbed.
This is an eerie story which approaches several sensitive matters such as inter-racial relationships, homosexuality, trying to be something you’re not, utter desperation… The last few lines left me a bit wanting after such a good set up but the rest of the story was very touching.
This one is told through the eyes of a child, which I always find extra creepy. I could never tell how old our narrator was but he was young. The author was completely successful in conveying the terror a child feels under such circumstances and the ending was, as usual, very sad but expected. At least we get hopeful hints about the kid’s future throughout the story, that was nice.
The Death Drive of Rita, Nee Carina
I wasn’t sure what to think about this one, to be honest. Disturbing as usual, especially because the line between sanity/reality and dream/invention was stretched so thin.
The Man Who Was
This story approaches homosexuality as well but in a completely different manner. The development of the story was quite well achieved both because the narrator had a completely different voice of the previous stories and the suspense was deliciously frustrating. Everytime I felt I, as our narrator, was going to get the answer to the big mystery behind the General, something would interrupt. The ending, again, left me lacking because it felt too farfetched even for fiction.
This was probably the one I enjoyed the least. Having a completely different narrating voice was interesting but the way it was done was not. I felt it dragged on and on. I get the point that the narrator tried to give subtle hints throughout the story but reading stuff like In the middle of the room, though, is a large fish tank. As in the tank is large, but also as in it could hold a large fish. Both definitions apply. got tiresome.
The ending was surprising enough but after such a development it just wasn’t enjoyable, there was simply too much redundancy throughout the story.
This one was right up my alley, my type of horror. Again, primarily seen through the eyes of a child trying to figure out why things are the way they are and why she is not supposed to do certain things – or other people for that matter.
However, I felt too much was left unexplained and I wish it had been further developed, if not to a full novel then at least a novella. It could be awesome.
This story features two gay friends, one male and one female, visiting a citadelle in France.
I enjoyed the development and particularly the ironic ending that I never saw coming, which is always a pleasant surprise.
Bones of Crow
Not sure what to say about this one except it was very symbolic.
Creepy, of course but the ending made sense in a twisted way.
The notes at the end brought my attention to things I had not contemplated, besides the cancer thing which seemed obvious.
Pins and Needles
Wow. This guy was pretty messed up. And what’s even scarier is that it felt like he suffered from some kind of mental illness. To think there could be people like this out there, living their own lives and doing these little acts to get noticed. And what an ending… Perfect conclusion.
Guilt leads you to do strange things.
Once again myth bleeds over to reality and what you get is a very creepy story of a haunting that just won’t go away.
Where the Salmon Run
This one takes place in Russia and is full of analogies.
Another story where myth and reality merge in the mind of a woman who has been through a very traumatic experience.
There’s a lot of talk about salmon, for sure.
This tale appears to take place when the settlers took over northern american from the indians.
I think the characters were a lot more scared than me. Ok story.
A Mother’s Blood
Postpartum depression taken to an extreme. Wow.
Intense thoughts, stuff I never imagined to see on paper.
The Travellers Stay
A story where people who visit a motel never leave. Not a new theme, but interesting twist to it.
Though why anyone would stay in a hotel full of cockroaches in the first place, regardless how tired they were, is beyond me.
No More West
Much too short to account to anything relevant. Only slightly piqued my interest.
Another of my favourites. A young boy can touch things and feel the emotions of those who handled them.
It is such a heartwarming and at the same time heartbreaking tale. I truly enjoyed it.
In the end, these stories manage to grip your attention while addressing extremely sensitive matters. They will most likely stay at the back of your mind for a while, perhaps even creep into your dreams.
All I can say is that I would love to read a longer piece by the author and that this one in particular comes highly recommended to fans of the genre.
Very hard to beat this horror anthology.
Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Read from Dec 15 to Jan 03, 2016