A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe
By J.R. Hamantaschen
A Book Review by Tony Jones
One of the most original dark fiction short story voices returns with his third full anthology
Not an author to release a collection with a title which rolls off the tip of the tongue, J.R. Hamantaschen returns with A Deep Horror that Was Very Nearly Awe which is his third full volume of stories. Although you won’t find much about J.R. on the web apart from his podcast, which I mention later, his collections frequently pick up excellent reviews. After reading this book of eleven very messed up stories, my first foray into his work, it is easy to see why sites such as The Ginger Nuts of Horror and HorrorTalk.Com have raved about him. They’re very hard to categorise, exceptionally strange, make unpredictable plot jumps, are often very nasty, funny, and usually have unpleasant endings. All the necessary ingredients for high quality dark fiction short story writing.
‘Short’ might not be the correct word as the majority of the stories, with the exception of one, range from medium length to very long. Many inclusions weigh in around the hour mark and were terrific lengths to get your teeth into. Funnily enough, I thought the shortest story was also the weakest. The majority meandered, taking their time to reveal their direction, were never in a hurry, before dropping some weird otherworldly bombshell. This was a real strength of A Deep Horror that Was Very Nearly Awe, I normally read meaty anthologies quite slowly, but with this book I found myself wondering what nastiness Hamantaschen had in store with his next offering and sped through it double quick. I read this on Kindle and got the feeling this was a sizable book, but it did not read like it and did not overstay its welcome.
A number of the stories followed the same bizarre pattern. Characters are introduced, settings are slowly developed and then at a certain point something dark or unpleasant occurs. For the most part this was nigh on impossible to predict; one moment we’re reading about the humdrum life of some guy and the next moment the story inexplicably changes direction entirely with little or no explanation. I found the plot switches to be a real high-point, and for the most part I thought they worked, but as the author never truly fills in all the dots some readers might find this style slightly frustrating. Another fun element was the fact that the endings tended to creep up on the reader. A couple seemed to finish prematurely, others I had to read more than once, or had me shaking my head and back-tracking on what I had just read.
I’m not going to go into much detail about the stories and just intend to give you a flavour of the sort of off-the-wall stuff J.R. Hamantaschen nails onto his page. It was also hard to pick a true favourite as there were so many bizarre inclusions I’m going to name-check a few of those which stuck with me longest. You’ll notice the names of the stories do not exactly roll off the tongue either or give much away about their content….
No One Cares But I Tried is the quirky tale of a young woman, Carol, who works in a big office and realises one of her bosses has the ability to project her voice, rather unpleasantly, inside Carol’s head and will not stop doing so until she quits her job, giving her a week to do so. This story follows the classic Hamantaschen short story blue-print perfectly; plenty of time is spent developing the office dynamics and friendships before the otherworldly aspect is dropped leading to an odd but strangely satisfying low-key ending.
Following a similar pattern, I’ve Read With Some Interest About…. Concerns Jen, who had lived in her apartment block for a couple of years but has failed to get to know any of her neighbours properly. Feeling lonely, she has given them all nicknames and imagines the sort of lives they might lead behind closed doors. However, one night after coming home from work she answers the door after hearing some weird knocking and things go from bad to worse as she lets something really unpleasant into her flat. But you never know, her neighbours might come to her rescue. If you could sum up this author’s style in one story, I guess this entry is pretty close to it and is a good example of a story with a perplexing second half and an ending where the reader if left hanging out to dry.
Faithfully and Lovingly was one of my favourites as, I guess, there is a tiny bit of Brian in all us guys who just want to take it easy after a hard day at work. Brian lives with Katie, in a seemingly happy relationship, works in computing, she is trying to lose weight and he comes across as needy, clingy and a tad unlikable. They have a verbal argument after him saying some dumb stuff when they meet an old family friend of hers which might lead to a job opportunity for Jen. He realises if she gets this new job it will lead to her leaving the area and perhaps him also. After a further argument about their future and a trip to the ice cream shop the story takes a huge twist which I thought was really cool and had no idea the direction the story was heading into. This tale was a great example of setting the scene and then delivering a massive twist which was in complete contrast from the first half of the story.
7099 Brecksville Road, Independence, Ohio varied the format and opened by revealing the otherworldly aspect of the story right at the beginning and featured plenty of lavatorial humour. The story is predominately set within inside a toilet in a truck pitstop, and within the middle of the three cubicle lurks a huge preying mantis type of creature which kills anyone who enters the stall. The mantis has a pair of fake legs and trucker boots and although the door is not locked, it looks like the cubicle is occupied. This highly amusing story centres around Frank who visits the toilet to take a shit, only to find out that there is no toilet paper and then tries to bug the dude in the middle stall for some of his paper!
Other entertaining tales include That’s Just the Way Things Are These Days when Sara and Nathan have been going steady for a while decide to have sex for the first time, whist their third friend waits outside, until something nasty happens when things hot up. In Upon a Path Suddenly Irradiated at Some Halfway Point by Daybeams as Rich as Hers Barbara Cromwell notices a crack in the wall, which begins to grow, after getting in the builders, they realise the wires look like living tissue and alien activity is suspected after the media become interested. But why would aliens be interested in the boring life of divorced Barbara?
Not all the stories are supernatural and I also really enjoyed Bleecher and Bleaker; or, Gay or Muesli which is one of the few stories written in the unreliable narrator first person format; taking another quirky change of direction, or misdirection from the outset. Ken, the narrator, arrives in New York after a job transfers and becomes friends with Tommy, a friend he quickly loses after a discussion gets uncomfortable. If you’re dating a sexy identical twin, wouldn’t it be natural to want to sleep with your twin’s sister, or so says Ken? The story moves on…. Ken becomes friends with a gay, in more ways than one, but friendly South American barista who works in one of the local coffee shops. A friendship strikes up and free coffee is drunk, in what was one of the oddest inclusions in the collection which moves away from the traditional horror story.
Mitch and Caroline are on their third date, a visit to the cinema in, Story Title Revealed About Halfway Through, not knowing there is a nutter in the cinema stalking the other patrons, particularly those who use their phones whilst the film is playing. The story is seen both from the point of view of the daters and the nutter. More lavatorial humour is thrown in for good measure.
The collection concludes with I Will Soon Be Home and Never Need Anyone Ever Again which took a good three hours of reading and could easily have been released as a standalone novella. However, even though it was the longest entry in the collection in some ways it was also the most predictable. Even though it does feature some excellent twists and turns, but once everything is in place I was certain I knew what the endgame would be and I was proven to be correct. It does take it time getting there and could perhaps have been shorter, but it was still a great read. Fourteen-year-old Thomas Egeland is a very bright boy who when he becomes a teenager struggles with friends and alternatively likes hanging out in the woods close to his house. At school he is being is seriously bullied at school by Larry, who when he was younger was a friend. Strangely, and out of the blue, an older kid appears; Brandon who wants to be his friend. Thomas keeps expecting this to be some sort of trick, but he seems genuine and they become fast friends, but what is the story of Brandon and does he have his own agenda? The story then makes a couple of major time jumps, flashing many years forward, to a crazy supernatural ending.
A Deep Horror that Was Very Nearly Awe was a fine anthology and the greatest compliment I can bestow upon it is by stating that after finishing it I immediately tracked down its predecessor With a Voice that is Often Still Confused But is Becoming Ever LOUDER and Clearer which I have since finished and also loved.
As I said at the beginning you’re not going to find out much about J.R. Hamantaschen on the internet, but both collections note that if you’re in the New York area J.R. is happy to meet fans/readers for coffee (“unless you’re an asshole” he says). If I lived in NYC that would be an offer I would not be able to refuse!
A Deep Horror that Was Very Nearly Awe also notes the author is currently working on longer fiction, so this might be his last release for a while.
Check out J.R.’s podcast, which I have on good authority, is his only presence on the web…