Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.
This book is a little different, in that it’s not exactly a collection of short stories, and not exactly a single story. There are actually four medium-length stories in The Collection, with a fifth story serving as a framing device. It’s a clever trick, no question, but it also makes a little difficult to review, as neither of my usual formats (short story collections vs. single tales) quite works. So I’m going to do a little bit of my usual reviewer-stuff for each of the five elements that make up this book, and hopefully, I’m reasonably coherent.
The framing story begins with a stressed-out, exasperated mother of a teenage girl meeting a strange, sickly old man on the subway. He tells her a terrible story (“I Will Make You Love Me”) before moving on to other passengers in other cars, telling each of them a tale of horror that resonates with something in their own life. Although we are shown early on that his intent is probably evil, we don’t understand his true purpose until the end. And it is FUN.
The first story, “I Will Make You Love Me” is the tale of a young woman being held hostage by a former lover. The flashback sequences in this one were impressive. The pacing, and jumping back and forth between Megan’s history with Nick, and her budding relationship with Shannon was deftly handled. I can’t say enough good things about the tempo during one critical scene, where the protagonist is waiting for something horrible to happen, and focusing on happy memories at the same time. It’s a terrifying, breathless countdown, that I wanted to hurry through and savor at the same time.
The ending was kind of predictable, if you’ve read a lot of horror. But the story itself was very well-written, and as I said, the pacing was fantastic.
In “The Worst Kind of Monster”, Dustin is a six year old boy with a pretty awful home life who hears a monster in his basement one night and decides to find out for himself what’s going on. Mr. Hupp really shines when showing us the world through Dustin’s eyes. He acts like a real little boy, and the dread we feel when following his investigation is intense.
I should add that I thought I had figured out the monster thing would go one of two ways, and I was happy (and more than a little horrified) when I found out I was wrong. The gore is heavy in this one, bordering on torture porn. But that wasn’t the scariest part of this story. The final sentence is going to stay with me for a long, long time. This is one of those “OH MY GOD THIS IS HORRIBLE I DON’T WANT THIS IN MY BRAIN” but at the same time “OH MAN I NEVER SAW THAT COMING I KIND OF LOVE IT” stories. But absolutely not for those with delicate sensibilities. You were warned!
“Last Words” is very similar to “I Will Make You Love Me”, in that it involves a woman being held captive, this time, along with her boyfriend. The kidnapper, Adam, is kind of an odd character, in that he seems to bounce between serial killer/sociopath cliches and very human oddities and quirks. Some of the dialogue rang a bit false, but there was at least one twist that I didn’t see coming, and I always like that.
That said, I just didn’t care for the ending of “Last Words”. The denouement was unnecessary to the rest of the story, and turned what would have been a fairly complete tale into an introduction to a whole other story that wasn’t included. I would have preferred either just this story, with the rest of it, as a separate book, or for the final bit to be cut out. And let me just take a second to say EW EW EW GROSS YUK – there are loads of gore in this one.
The final story, “Pound” is where Shaun Hupp really drops all pretense and shows us what he’s made of. It’s two completely different stories, one of sudden, shocking violence during a home invasion and one of an overheated, disturbed high school boy who’s home alone when his dream girl knocks on the door. The narration flips back and forth, and if you’re like me, you’ll be simultaneously following the action, and wracking your brain to figure out how the stories will collide. When they eventually intertwine, the results are completely unexpected.
So what did I think overall?
I’m well aware that I’m in a minority here, but to me, gore and horror are two different animals. Gore is the terrible thing you see, and horror is the terrible thing you don’t. I always tend to prefer the latter, and so to me, some of the more extreme elements in this book took away from the good stuff. At times, it felt like the author was going for shock value, instead of using his obvious skills to go for more subtle jabs to the reader’s psyche. Given Mr. Hupp’s flair for character, pacing, and telling a damn cool story, I feel like he could’ve toned down some of the over-the-top violence and had something just as good, and maybe even more effective.
There were also a few rookie mistakes, such as the occasional tendency to over-explain circumstances, and few paragraphs here and there that felt more like chunks of information which, while they might be relevant, slowed down the action. But this book is a solid foundation on which to build, and I believe that Shaun Hupp is going to be a horror author to watch.
The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and some carrot sticks. I think I’m off cheeseburgers for a while.)