Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 51) – Christopher Stanley – Review

Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 51)

Christopher Stanley

Demain Publishing

If you’ve read many of my reviews before, you’ll know that I have a particular love of the titles released by Demain Publishing, as they’re one of the best Horror publishers that I’ve come across in all my years reviewing titles in the genre. They’ve achieved that distinction through a deeply impressive process of combining high-quality writing, distinct and artfully-composed covers by Adrian Baldwin and carefully-curated content that has started to expand beyond the boundaries of Horror into Crime, Science-Fiction and even works of poetry. Whatever the publisher releases is always an absolute joy to read and review, and one of the few pieces of good news I’ve had in the past few months was the announcement that another tranche of titles were due to be released by Demain in early September. They kindly sent me a host of review copies for me to read – including the latest five releases in the Short Sharp Shock! series. Actually, rather intriguingly, these five books are the beginning of the second Short Sharp Shock! series, as the publisher begins to work its way from 50 to an astounding 100 titles of short, sharp and shocking horror fiction entries in the imprint. I’ve always been deeply impressed by the Short Sharp Shock! series and the many of its titles that I’ve been reviewed: not only do you have those iconic, eye-catching covers from Adrian Baldwin, but the publisher has carefully curated short stories and novelettes from the best authors in the horror genre – both veterans and up-and-coming stars – in order to give their readers some of the finest short-form fiction currently being published in the genre. As such, I was beyond eager to dive into these five new titles – and began with Book 51 – Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions by Christopher Stanley.

Like many titles in the Short Sharp Shock! series, Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions is formed of three short stories. The first is Devil’s Reach which takes as its premise the incredibly emotive subjects of familial alienation, divorce, and the parental kidnapping of children. John flees from his wife, their baby daughter clutched in his arms, desperate to flee from the reach of the titular devil, his wife; in his mind, Harper is safest with him, away from the emotional poison represented by the wife that drained his finances and his ability to love. Stanley deftly evokes the feelings of panic, paranoia and outright fear such an incident would evoke in someone, especially a parent doing something as horrifying and desperate as John, bringing you along with that torrent of emotions. It isn’t difficult to sympathise with him once hints of how his wife’s previous marriage ended are brought to the fore; and especially once it becomes clear that she possesses abilities that are far from natural. Far from being safe within the sterile, dispassionate confines of the ferry, John finds himself at the mercy of people and abilities far beyond his comprehension. The ferry becomes a haunting, almost surreal backdrop to a desperate race to save himself and his daughter, one that becomes a twisted and bizarre trap where reality obeys only the commands of his wife. It’s an impressively fast-paced and atmospheric story that seamlessly moves from natural to supernatural horror without ever becoming bogged down by extraneous details.

It’s then followed by Hell’s Teeth, this time set in a school and focusing on the relentless torment inflicted on young schoolgirl Daisy by a group of girls older than her. Deeply resentful of the bullying, which even descends to the point of being mocked for not losing her baby teeth quickly enough compared to the bullies, Daisy enacts a ritual of sorts in an attempt to rescue herself from her tormentors. After a disturbingly-described and bloody result seems to give her the freedom she desperately craves, circumstances intervene to allow her to enact it – again and again. But hurried attempts at vengeance lead to unexpected and unwanted consequences for Daisy and her tormentors, leading up a shocking and nauseating ending. Stanley artfully depicts the atmosphere of the claustrophobic confines of a school, and the strange, rumour-filled half-reality conjured up by the gossiping and conjecture of hundreds of children confined to a small building and only partially supervised by adults. Add to that a disturbing reinterpretation of a certain childhood myth, and the result is a darkly memorable and chilling story. The collection finishes off with Unbecoming Me, a nightmarish and deeply surreal story about one teenager’s inability to fit in with his peers at university while also being haunted by the spectre of his dead sister; constantly compared to her despite her death at childbirth, familial and social isolation blend together to create an unstable and highly disturbed individual. Blended together with an imaginative supernatural element that rather caught me off guard, this is another striking and unforgettable tale, and an excellent way to finish off the triptych.

Drawing deeply from the darkest recesses of the human psyche, and demonstrating a keen eye for the fragile and insubstantial nature of the human condition, Christopher Stanley has created a haunting collection of horror stories in Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions. Demonstrating a keen insight into human morality and the predator/prey nature inherent in people – the weak preyed upon by the strong – and blending that with an engaging and vivid writing style, and memorable characterizations, the collection evidences Stanley’s clear abilities as a writer of horror fiction, and I look forward to seeing what he writes in the future.

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