WITH A VOICE THAT IS OFTEN STILL CONFUSED BUT IS BECOMING EVER LOUDER AND CLEARER

PrintE-mail Written by Joel Harley

Not an easy title to get your head around and the stories within aren't much easier either. J. R. Hamantaschen, author of the highly memorable, terrifyingly bleak short fiction collection You Shall Never Know Security (2011) follows up with this second book of stories – With a Voice That is Often Still Confused But is Becoming Ever Louder and Clearer (no problem making a minimum word count with a title like that). Whether the title refers to a protagonist, antagonist or the author himself... one isn't quite sure, but it's captivating, nonetheless.

There are nine tales to this collection, each of satisfying length and immediately striking, from first page to last. Rarely is the distinction between horror and dark fiction as distinct as it is reading Hamantaschen's work – stories that will grip you for their humanity and soul rather than any specific external threat. These here are works which deal in paranoia and existential dread rather than, say, the fear of taking a machete to the face. Which isn't to say that the author doesn't have a little fun with it from time to time – see Cthulhu, Zombies, Ninjas, and Robots!; or, a Special Snowflake in an Endless Scorching Universe, for example – a beautiful takedown of Lovecraft fandom, ingeniously set at a Lovecraft convention.

To say much more would be to spoil the many surprises contained within, but there's not a dud among the lot. Hamantaschen's prose is poetic, witty and effortlessly heartbreaking at times. Even the story titles are a work of beauty (Soon Enough This Will Essentially Be a True Story being a favourite) and Hamantaschen even manages to imbue pieces such as his blurbs ('uncharacteristically kind words'), dedications ('none' gets a solid laugh) and introduction with a sense of self-deprecating wit and poignancy.

It's been a while since You Shall Never Know Security, but this second collection was well worth the wait. Confused or no, Hamantaschen has marked his distinctive, often scary, frequently depressing voice as one worth listening to.

WITH A VOICE THAT IS OFTEN STILL CONFUSED BUT IS BECOMING EVER LOUDER AND CLEARER / AUTHOR: J.R. HAMANTASCHEN / PUBLISHER: WEST PIGEON PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW 

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