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Collection manages to combine horror and comedy

bookThere aren’t many successful horror fiction writers who are described as comical and/or whimsical. The terms seem incompatible. You don’t expect to discover that your vampire tale is full of snickers and puns. Besides, it is a rare gift to find a writer who can combine humor with gore; terror and giggles. Well, Robert Shearman can. In fact, he have a half-dozen popular titles out in England, and now his reputation has spread to America. Saddle up, folks! This is going to be fun.

Remember Why You Fear Me is a collection of what is considered “the best of Robert Shearman’s Short Stories.” That must have been a difficult decision, and, indeed, some of England’s most noted authors were the judges. There are frequent comparisons to Shirley Jackson (The Lottery) and Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber) and Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but in the final analysis, the judges all agree that Robert Shearman is eerie, unique and wonderful. However, some of Sherman’s tales are disturbing because he sometimes moves into a literary form that the English call “nasty.” In short, he breaks some taboos and moves into forbidden territory. More about that when we get there!

I am partial to Ben, the kid in “Cold Snap” who wakes on Christmas morning to find Santa Claus in his room. Ben doesn’t believe in either Santa or Jesus, and notes that his “belief in Santa had outlived his belief in God” because Christ on the cross is simply too fantastic. When Ben woke to a white Christmas (rare in London), he found that his unhappy parents had signed some kind of pact with Santa. Could it be that Ben had unwittingly betrayed his father for a new bike? Had his mother traded Ben for a new husband? So, it begins with a long, solitary walk through a heavy snowfall into a deep forest to a place where Santa’s weary reindeer and the sleigh wait. What then? This reviewer has no intention of providing “spoilers.” 

In “Damned If You Don’t,” the inhabitants of the Earth awake one morning to find media announcements from “an alien power” that has been monitoring life on this planet for thousands of years. However, “they” have come to feel that they have made a mistake in denying us specific knowledge about our deaths. As they have watched mankind struggle to avoid their demise (plastic surgery, dieting, jogging, heart transplants, etc.), the Immortals have decided to try a different approach: just tell each of us the specific date and hour of our demise. The news comes by letter ... a tasteful vellum envelope and a simple card delivered by “a trusted employee.” An example would be: “Roger Simpson, car accident, July 28, 2015. 9:15 p.m.”  Simple and direct. The intent is, once we know with certainty, we can live more orderly lives. The narrator of this tale is the only person who does not receive an announcement since it is his job to deliver the messages.

My favorite is probably the one is called “Mortal Coil.” This is the story of Martin, who dies and goes to hell where he discovers that Satan’s domain has housing that is much like a standard college dorm... and that he has a roommate. The only problem is, the roommate is a dog....a dachshund who has ended up in the Infernal Region, not because of what he did in his earthly life, but because of who owned him.  Adolf Hitler. His name is Woofie and he is a nice dog who readily gives Matin the top bunk. Ah, but there are problems ... especially after the dead return to the earth and further complicate Martin’s existence.  

 “Road Kill” is a true enigma. The atmosphere is still quirky and strange, but it is resembles  a  grim parable as well. The story follows an adulterous, mismatched couple: He is planning a marriage, but first, he wants a weekend of wild abandon with an “experienced” partner; she is a bored, barren wife, trapped in a bad marriage and wants to feel loved again. Neither of them is likely to find any fulfillment together.

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Armed with a guide to Britain’s historic towns, the two set forth on what is meant to be a wild, sexual adventure (and in a sense, it truly is!). However, their plans change when the man (who is a pathetic twit) hits “something” on a dark road .... At first, they think the mangled creature is a pregnant rabbit with great, leathery wings. They “rescue” it and put it in the trunk of the car, but as their journey continues, they are distracted by the thumping noise from the trunk. Is the wounded creature a miraculous discovery that will bring them fame, or is it an omen?  Should they “put it out of its misery,” or rush it to a medical facility? You need to read this one.

I need to note that there are 20 short stories in this collection, and I have only discussed  a few. However, let me assure you that if you can be offended, Robert Shearman will not only make you uncomfortable; he will be downright “nasty.” You may find yourself throwing Remember Why You Fear Me into the trash. You have been warned. There are stories of cannibalistic angels, incestuous grandmothers and a clutch of vampires, werewolves and zombies that will make your gorge rise. What is interesting about these offending passages is that they are offenses against our most treasured rituals: Christmas, family gatherings and the rules that govern our sexual identifies.

Perhaps the most offensive story in this collection is “Alice Through the Plastic Sheet.” It begins with Alan and Alice, their son Bobby and their dog, Sparky, discovering that they have new neighbors. However, although there are moving vans and furniture, there are no people. Determined to meet their new neighbors, Alan and Alice keep vigilant watch and Alice even visits, taking a cup of sugar to the new folks as a part of the welcome ritual. No one is home. Since it is the Christmas holidays, the new neighbors play loud music (Christmas carols, Bing Crosby, etc.), but no one seems to be home. As time passes, the situation becomes ominous and Alan and Alice come to hate their new neighbors. Sparky barks constantly, seems frightened and eventually dies. Alan and Alice come to hate each other and the new neighbors never emerge.

Many of Sherman’s characters are hapless victims and although they perceive themselves as socially adjusted, successful and sexually fulfilled, they become increasingly maladjusted as their story progresses. This is the kind of book that would provoke interesting discussions in a book club. Ah, but I doubt it would ever be selected for reading by any book club in which the members select the books to be discussed. It will be interesting to see what happens to Robert Shearman in America!

(Gary Carden is a writer and storyteller. He lives in Sylva. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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