Note: I received an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.
There’s an elegance and, more importantly, a punch to short fiction that often goes overlooked. Publication of an impactful novel, oft-toted as one of literature’s highest accomplishments, not to mention most prose writers’ major goal, drastically overshadows those who prefer their tales to be neatly surmised in just a few thousand words or less. Significantly less, in the case of drabbles, which can only be 100 words.
Jo-Anne Russell’s latest collection, Little Dead Things, is a 41-story collection of flash fiction, stories ranging from 100 word drabbles to just a couple pages. Illustrated by Jeffrey Kosh with a forward by Franklin E. Wales, this book is perfect for those who want a break from the long-haul of the fifty-thousand-plus-word stories others frequently celebrate. Whether this is because you’re short on time or you just prefer sprints to marathons, it’s sure to have a story that suits your speed.
Some stories stand out as being particularly well-written, combining the weird with the mundane in very unsettling ways. “The Apricot Poodle,” a drabble that I won’t describe, since describing something so short would necessitate spoilers, is one such story. “The Fun House” and “Loose Change” are great little jamais vu pieces, where reality shifts sideways and puts some truly odd events at the center of everyday life. Others, like “Mama,” are more psychological in nature, eschewing the weird for tales about ordinary people doing the sorts of things you’d see them getting arrests for on the 5 O’clock news. A few, like “Snake Eyes,” fall smack in the middle, serving as warnings about how regular human darkness might unleash a very different monster. “The Promised Land,” I’d argue, has great potential for another story, short or otherwise.
A few of these carry influence from other notable pop culture figures, such as “A Murder of Crows,” which channels some clear Hitchcock vibes. “Jabberwock Tea” is another one, and those thinking it’s an Alice and Wonderland piece won’t be disappointed (those who’ve wanted to read about zombies in A+W will be thoroughly delighted).
With a collection such as this, not all tales are going to stand out as winners. The presence of some of these far more engaging stories creates a wider, more obvious rift with those that fall short. I won’t specify the ones that didn’t quite measure up, as it’s entirely possible other readers will enjoy them, and I don’t want to discolor that perception ahead of time. While just as well-written, they aren’t quite as original or engaging as the others, and some of the truly unique and bizarre plotlines make these fall flat.
Overall, Little Dead Things lives up to its name, and horror fans are absolutely going to find stories they enjoy. It doesn’t matter if the readers want realistic horror or weird/supernatural showdowns, because these little bites make an overall great meal. As the name suggests, the stories are little and chock full of strange, mysterious, terrible deaths, so this collection is well worth the time. Whether you read it start to finish, or grab an afternoon coffee and knock a few out over your break at work, it’ll be worth the time and money.