Remember Why You Fear Me, Robert Shearman, 344 pgs, ChiZine Publications, chizinepub.com, $19.95
Robert Shearman says he doesn’t write horror fiction, and I think he’s right. His anthology, Remember Why You Fear Me, blends the sensibility of British comedy with fantastical elements drawn from myth, religion, fairy tales and yes, horror genre tropes. The book is pitched as “dark” or “horror” fiction depending on whether you prefer the cover copy or the introduction by Stephen Jones, but I think these terms are not only reductive but also misleading.
While there are horrific, fantastic and grisly elements to many of the stories, the most compelling parts are not the monsters or murders or bodily transformations, but the absurd, rigid and broken emotions of Shearman’s characters as they deal with them, and the humour that spills out of their attempts.
Like most stories with fantastical elements, summaries are going to sound incomprehensible: “Jason Zerrillo is an Annoying Prick” inserts a mime into a retelling of the gospels, “So Proud” is about an unnamed woman who gives birth to furniture. I kept reading not to be surprised and horrified at what kind of furniture she’d give birth to next (will it be antimacassars or night tables?) but because of her husband’s petty reaction to the scenario. The best stories in this collection (“Cold Snap,” “Pang,” “George Clooney’s Moustache”) use their fantastical elements to construct absurd but emotionally resonant situations and then Shearman lets them spool out as half-farce, half-agony.
Readers looking for tense, thrilling stories to provoke feelings of dread will be better served by other books, but Remember Why You Fear Me is a fine collection of morbid, bleak humour. (John Bell)