December 14, 2009

Apparently endings are hard.

I wrote an actual professional review of the book, and I was just going to cross-post it, but then I’m like, wait, that’s stupid. If I post the full text here, then I can’t put it up elsewhere. Therefore, you get the very casual review version. Lucky you.

I had to read a book of short stories for my short story class. The press constantly gets review copies of books, so I always just assumed I’d grab one from the review shelf and use that. Susan tends to use the reviews for class in Big Muddy anyway. So, a few weeks ago, I grabbed a copy of the first short story collection on the shelf that seemed halfway interesting, and was soon in possession of a copy of Fugue State by Brian Evenson.

First off, I highly recommend clicking on that link up there, or these next links, and it seems like my favorite story from the collection, “Younger,” is available online in audio and text forms. It might give you some idea of what I’m talking about.

“Younger” really sums up what I did like about this book, and I did like it. It’s filled with psychological horror, the sort that isn’t connected with monsters or anything supernatural, but is just powered by characters having internal conflicts that make things creepy. I’m not a horror person, but this kind of character struggle is something I love in stories, and Evenson does a fantastic job of it, when he puts his mind to it. The majority of the stories play out in a form similar to “Younger.” I don’t feel they’re as successful, but, you know, they’re still fairly entertaining and, if nothing else, are based on a very entertaining idea.
The rest of the stories are split between a dark humor and what I would call more standard horror fare. You have stories that are just humorous in the tale of a editor who wants to publish literary work but ends up publishing trashy mystery novels with names like “Never Been Bjorn” about a detective who’s a swede, because that’s the hook. You have stories about a woman fucking a mime because “it would be a good story to tell at parties” who is haunted by the act ever since. These are just really clearly meant to be humorous. Then you have stories like the title story, “Fugue State,” which work with a supernatural threat. Still, even the supernatural stories are very character-driven, which is good. At least in my opinion.

The main issue I had with the book is that many of the stories have endings that fall completely flat. I know endings are hard. Endings are very hard. But it’s just a shame when you get a published work with so many failed endings in it. So many stories have such great premises, but once that premise has run its course, the story just stops, without any sort of satisfying conclusion. The previously-mentioned “Invisible Box” is probably the worst offender in that regard, being so entertaining, funny, and slightly creepy all the way up to the ending, which just seems completely phoned in.

Still, as I said, I certainly enjoyed the book overall. There were some very good stories in there. At least read “Younger” for me, hm? If you like that, and think you’d like a little more, even if it isn’t quite up to that quality, then Fugue State is almost certainly a book for you to check out. It’s pretty solid stuff.

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