Review: Remember Why You Fear Me: The Best Dark Fiction of Robert Shearman

remember_cover>>Published: October 2012

>>Finally got around to it: February 2013

He went into the spare room. She’d been through the cupboards, there was debris all over the bed. From an empty shoebox she’d found his heart. She was holding it in one palm—he’d forgotten how, in death, it had grown so small and wizened.

“Put that back,” he said. “That isn’t yours anymore.”

“Look,” she said softly. “Look.” And she began to stroke it. She blew on it gently.

“It’s not yours,” he said, uselessly.

And as he watched, the rock cracked. Pink tissue broke through the stone and bone. “Look,” she said again. It was struggling, and then it managed a beat, and once it had managed one, it seemed all too happy to beat again. “Look,” she said, and kissed it. The last of the rock crumbled away at her touch. “I love you,” she said. “Look. I love you. Look how much.” And she offered his heart out to him, as good to new.

Dazedly he reached for it. She smiled, nodded. He took hold of it. Looked at it, as it swelled with new life. And then he dug his fingernails in, dug them in deep, dug ’til it bled. “No,” she said. And began squeezing hard, so that one of the ventricles bulged then burst. “No, stop!” And ripped it apart, tearing at it, pulling off gobbets of it, showering them on to the spare room carpet.

“I told you,” he said. “It isn’t yours. You gave it back.”

***

Remember Why You Fear Me: The Best Dark Fiction of Robert Shearman collects twenty of the World Fantasy Award-winning author’s most accomplished short stories, fourteen of which have seen previous publication between 2006 and 2012.

Shearman has had to date a rather illustrious writing career; he’s won several playwriting awards, has been associated with England’s Royal National Theatre, and worked on the BBC series The Chain Gang and Doctor Who. His short fiction is no less respected, having taken home the British Fantasy Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and as previously mentioned, the World Fantasy Award. The stories collected in this publication, many of which have been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award and the World Fantasy Award, run the range between magical realism, surrealism, flat-out horror, and the not-so-plain, not-so-ordinary, dark and dreary crevasses of the imagination.

Death, children, family, abandonment, and legacy are the core unifying elements among the stories collected in Remember Why You Fear Me. In “Mortal Coil,” when everyone in the world learns the hows, whys, and whens of their inevitable deaths, a young man without a funeral of his own to look forward to becomes a reluctant executioner; the mother of “So Proud” is giving birth to furniture and appliances she neither wants nor has use for; the divorced father at the centre of “Cold Snap” grows apart from his son when his ex-wife and the new man in her life divide his attention, and a contract with Santa Claus written long ago has tragic, antler-ific consequences; “One More Bloody Miracle After Another” focuses on a two-year-old girl’s immaculate conception and her mother’s furious, controlling nature; and “The Dark Space in the House in the House in the Garden at the Centre of the World” depicts the harsh reality that approaches all too suddenly when one abandons faith for fact, when children decide to extricate themselves from their parents’ influence in order to craft legacies of their own.

Shearman’s voice has tremendous range, inhabiting each tale in unique, often unexpected ways. Most notable in this regard is the second story in the collection, “George Clooney’s Moustache,” which is told from the perspective of a young girl, her age never specified, who falls in love with the man who has abducted her. As Stockholm syndrome takes effect, the captive becomes the captor, spurned by the man’s apparent lack of affection. The story itself is childish in tone, and because her age is deliberately obscured, it’s not clear how much time passes over the course of the story. The block paragraphs and run-on sentences are indicative of a mind that has never fully matured. The loss of innocence is palpable and unsettling.

Not every story in the collection is especially horrifying. Point of fact, some are downright comical… until they’re not. For example, “Damned if You Don’t,” which imagines a Hell so overpopulated that the dead are sent back to the world above as shades of their former selves and Hitler’s dog, Woofie, befriends his Hell-sent roommate, Martin. And why was Woofie sent to Hell? For being Hitler’s dog and nothing else… certainly not the tacit approval of death and genocide he offers Martin near the story’s end. Because as Woofie said to Hitler one fateful day, “If you’re going to Hell for one Jew, then why not for a hundred? For a hundred thousand. For six million. If you’re going to be damned anyway, at least be damned for something impressive.” Ridiculous. Absurd. And chilling.

The strongest titles in the collection are “Good Grief,” “Pang” (the strongest of the lot, in my ever so humble opinion, and the one quoted at the top of this review), “Favourite,” “Featherweight,” and “Clown Envy.” The latter is also the most terrifying in the collection… because fuck clowns, that’s why.

Most impressive is how with such limited space for each story Shearman managed, on several occasions, to really get under my skin. It was never with the more horrifying case studies (but seriously, fuck you, clowns), rather I was undone by the most obvious knife wounds of humanity—small cuts that unexpectedly grazed the surface of some of the more poignant tales: by Alex’s attempts to blame the death of his drunk-driving wife on the woman she accidentally killed in a head-on collision in “Good Grief;” or the quiet, sad serenity of one man witnessing the premature death of the family he never got to develop in “Featherweight.”

“Blue Crayon, Yellow Crayon” is the most esoteric in the collection, yet still strangely uplifting. However, as much cannot be said for “Elementary Problems of Photography (Number Three): An Analysis, and Proferred Solution” and “Jason Zerrillo is an Annoying Prick,” the only weak entries in the entire collection.

There are still several stories in this collection I’ve not touched upon, and each and every one of them is worth your time. This is the first of Shearman’s writing I’ve been exposed to, and it will not be the last. Remember Why You Fear Me: The Best Dark Fiction of Robert Shearman is a strong collection of genre fiction—one of the strongest I’ve come across in some time.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s