In the introduction of Remember Why You Fear Me (the recent book of collected short fiction by Robert Shearman), we learn that the author is reluctant to describe himself as a horror writer, and instead prefers to think of his work as “weird or humorous”. Certainly these are apt descriptions for the twenty stories found between the covers of this book, but they’re also quite certainly horrifying tales, not for the faint of heart.
The humour on display here is of the dark and twisted variety. Just look at “Mortal Coil”, the opening story of the collection. In this surreal tale, everyone on earth receives a letter telling them the time and manner of their death. Our protagonist, Henry Peter Clifford, is soon visited by a series of people clutching letters which insist that he is to be their killer. Obediently Henry does away with them in a variety of gruesome ways. The killings are grim enough, but also treated with a kind of knowing glibness:
“There were two drownings, which Harry conducted in the bath one after the other — only realizing as he lugged the swollen corpses into Mary’s bedroom afterwards how heavy bodies became when full of water. Another one had his head caved in with an electric iron, and since Mary had been the one to take charge of all the practical details in their marriage, it took Harry a full half hour to find the right cupboard in which she’d kept it.”
The humour is a constant companion through the darkness, yet never quite diminshes the horror of the strange events that take place. Indeed, it sometimes heightens the sense of discomfort to have such terrible topics breezed through with calm, dry wit.
The originality of these stories is their other great strength. In “So Proud” a young mother gives birth to a Chesterfield Sofa. In “Clown Envy” a man joins the circus to impress his child. Elsewhere we find car crashes and whispering bathtubs and noisy houses populated by mannequins.
The ideas might sound random and haphazard, but more often than not Shearman makes them work. He has a knack for taking something outrageous and impossible and normalising it, making the improbable seem like the everyday.
You would be hard pressed to find a more imaginative collection of unsettling tales. The collection is produced to the typically high standards of Chizine Publications, and available as an ebook and in print. All in all there’s no reason not to check out this lively and diquieting collection.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.