Fiction Reviews


(2023) Christi Nogle, Flame Tree Press, £12.95 / Can$21.95 / US$16.95,
pbk, 211pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58812-7


This is a collection of short stories which the publisher thinks will appeal to Black Mirror and Twilight Zone fans. Well… maybe? There’s a lot of weirdness here – strange characters in strange situations with a thread of unnerving otherworldliness throughout – but the characters and their stories are often little more than a thinly fleshed idea. And some of these stories are very short. Most of them have appeared in online and print journals such as Dark Matter Magazine, Three Lobed Burning Eye and Apparition Lit, which gives some clues as to the subject matter (dark, strange), but there are some originals too. They don’t need to be read sequentially: they’re not linked, other than in style.

The 21 stories here should be read with caution. Six come with a mild body horror warning, three with ageing and death, one flags a naïve (the author’s word) treatment of being non-binary, another with ‘pronounced’ body horror and one with sexual exploitation. I didn’t find any of these stories particularly shocking, but I wouldn’t recommend this volume for your ten year old’s Christmas stocking.

I’d be happy to get this book in my stocking though: I like short stories, and I like these short stories. They’re easy to digest, varied and often playful (though invariably with a hint of darkness). Sure, they suffer from the big problem short shorts often have, that there’s no room to develop, and many are more bemusing than insightful, but I like the tone and inventiveness here.

To give you an idea of what to expect, I’ll outline three which I think are pretty typical. In 'Cocooning', for instance, a couple in a fairly ordinary neighbourhood stop going out, even to walk the dogs. Gradually, the two humans and two dogs get so close that they are all absorbed into one, larger creature. And then it breaks loose… This story first came out in 2020, and it feels like a lockdown response, as do many in the collection.

'An Account' tells of a woman who finds a yellow backpack, then all time stops until she’s absorbed the contents of the books inside it and taken notes. Then she travels back in time, or, it is hinted, to other realities. All this is recounted by her daughter, who eventually finds a yellow backpack of her own. But the unreliable narrator is flagged from the off – when recounting her mother’s story, the daughter maintains ‘I never doubted that she believed it.’

And Trevor, in 'Viridian Green', is a handsome man in person but ugly on a videoconferencing screen. So he subtly influences the image people see. Then the image takes on a life of its own…

All weird. All good.

Mark Bilsborough


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