I read The Forward Collection last year, and so far this year I’ve read The Trespass Collection, The Black Stars Collection, The Dark Corners Collection and The Hush Collection. I’m absolutely hooked on these speedy pieces of short fiction. They’re available in ebook and audio via Kindle Unlimited, which is a great deal for lots of excellent short fiction. If you’d like to sign up for Kindle Unlimited, my link is here and at the bottom of this review. This collection is focused on a world that’s almost ours, and gave me a real sense of uncanny valley.
The Best Girls by Min Jin Lee:
About the book: An excellent student from a poor, traditional family in Seoul, the narrator has absorbed the same message her whole life: Only a boy can provide the family with dignity and wealth. Not her. Not her three sisters. Receiving approval only for uncomplaining sacrifice, she has resolved to take on her family’s troubles. She is a good girl. And she knows what good girls must do.
My review: Knowing this is based on a true story just makes it even more painful. This story doesn’t feel like much until you get to the end when it hits you with an incredibly impactful gut punch. I liked the writing, which suited the narrative voice of the character really well. The patriarchal ideas of male value, family loyalty and duty were threaded throughout this short story and it was so painful to see what was coming as I read.
Rating: 3 stars
Loam by Scott Heim:
About the book: Forty years ago, triplets Miriam, Louise, and Edward were swept up in a case of rural mass hysteria. Coerced into fabricating unspeakable lies about their first-grade teacher and her adult son, they were complicit in destroying two lives. Ever since, they have believed they are being followed by a presence still seeking retribution for their childhood sins. Unless their guilty consciences are conjuring as many monsters as their innocent minds once did.
My review: This was so fucking creepy. The mass hysteria combined with the leading questions in the police interviews made it incredibly uncomfortable to read in the way that only really good horror can. Reading this made me crave more horror set during the Satanic Panic, and while the ending did feel a little vaguer than I would have liked – I’m a big fan of a solid conclusion – it wasn’t a bad ending by any means and fit the openendedness that a lot of these Amazon Originals have in common.
Rating: 4 stars
Ungirls by Lauren Beukes:
About the book: Actor and sex worker Nats is experienced at putting on a show. However, her new gig supplying intimate whispers for growgirls takes her to a place darker and lonelier than she could have ever imagined. The lab-grown dolls can respond to pleasure or pain; their synthetic heads contain only the simplest AI to prevent any pesky robo sex doll uprisings. But just because growgirls don’t have a brain, doesn’t mean they don’t have a voice…
My review: This was really unnerving. Honestly, between this and TENDER IS THE FLESH, I would just like science to Not. The reddit comments in particular freaked me out because they felt so real. I felt like the multiple perspectives were a little disjointed, but I did stay immersed in the story. I had to read the ebook of this one instead of listening though, because I am terrible at listening to anything even slightly sex related. Nats had the most horrifying storyline by far and what happened to her felt like a huge, gross invasion of privacy – and on top of that the white knight trying to save her made everything worse.
Rating: 4 stars
Anonymous by Uzodinma Iweala:
About the book: He’s a well-traveled consultant arriving home at a metropolitan airport. He’s also become accustomed to extra scrutiny for his brown skin and many-stamped passport. But when he’s whisked away, isolated, and chained in a stark white room without explanation, his reality crumbles. Because what he doesn’t know is the most damning evidence against him.
My review: I liked the writing style of this one. It was a pretty harrowing read in particular because I knew it has happened and more likely than not is still happening to people. Racial profiling is something I’m privileged to have never had to deal with, and I can’t imagine being in the shoes of this character. The ending is a sharp shock, and feels somehow disproportionate to the horrors that our character experiences – which to me is exactly the point. To go through so much and to be expected to simply move on? It was horrible to consider.
Rating: 3 stars
The Beckoning Fair One by Dan Chaon:
About the book: Ever since they were orphaned, Tyler has kept close tabs on his sister, Shannon. He has to, considering her weird and risky obsessions. Now she has a new one: an inexplicable crush on an odd-looking stranger. And what Shannon wants from her unwitting “honey boy,” Tyler can’t begin to fathom. Not until he follows his sister into the darkest corners of her desires.
My review: Hand on my heart, I could not tell you what the plot of this short story is. I don’t hate that though, it was creepy in a gothic sort of way where I wasn’t sure what was happening but I knew I didn’t like it. There was one scene that was a little more graphic than I’d have liked, but I can’t fault it for that – horror is as horror does and it wasn’t gratuitous, I just hate gory pseudo-sex scenes. I think the ending could have been more conclusive and I’d have liked it a little more.
Rating: 3 stars
Will Williams by Namwali Serpell:
About the book: Ever since high school, somebody’s been playing the echo game on Will Williams. A look-alike with the same tattoos and the same name has been following him. Starting by implicating Will in petty crimes, and escalating to offenses with serious prison terms, he’s undermined every attempt Will has made to get his life on track. Now, drifting from city to city, Will’s doing everything in his power to outrun his shadow.
My review: This pushed all my buttons in the woooorst way. It was a fantastic read. The idea of a doppelganger committing crimes and tangling you up in them is intense and terrifying, the sense of helplessness enough to make me shiver. I haven’t read the Poe story that this is based on, but between this and an anthology of Poe retellings that I’ve read before I think I need to start reading Poe because I’ve always enjoyed them. I liked the contemporary setting, and the way that this story pulled racial profiling and racial inequality into this retelling. It gave it a hell of a punch and left me feeling spooked and sad.
Rating: 4 stars
If you’re interested in trying any of the above, I recommend using this affiliate link for a kindle unlimited trial! If you do, you can get the whole collection for free in ebook and audio, which is how I listened to all of them.