Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Book Review: 'A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe' by J.R. Hamantaschen
"I'm an old lady, I don't often insult people. I'm a bit rusty.”
J.R. Hamantaschen is that rare author who fits no category, genre, or style with his books. He likes to remain fairly anonymous but does indeed offer a richly detailed ‘biography’ I his Introduction: ‘I always tell myself that I should get one of my more popular or more respected peers to write my introductions. Yet it’d be hard for me to criticize the hyperbolic “this young author will blow your mind and probably cure cancer” type of introductions that are so common in the small press world if I succumb to the temptation myself. Also, there’s nothing that readies the pitchforks of critical approbation like an introduction that overpromises and underdelivers, so like my mother told me growing up, keep expectations about yourself low and people likely won’t be as disappointed. This is my third collection of short horror fiction. It will likely be my last for the foreseeable future, as I move onto longer works. For fans of mine, I view this collection as a fitting end point and an encapsulation of the themes and motifs I’ve explored in my short fiction (particularly with the last story in this collection: hopefully that’s enough of an impetus to get you to read the whole book!), and a showcase of the styles that worked best in my previous two collections. Like always, I prefer that you read the stories in order. But it’s best to say as little as possible and just hope you enjoy what is to come. As always, I can be reached at Jrtaschen@gmail.com. In addition to my previous two collections, “You Shall Never Know Security” and “With a Voice that is Often Still Confused But is Becoming Ever Louder and Clearer,” I also host a weekly podcast called The Horror of Nachos and Hamantaschen, where I bloviate about horror movies, horror fiction, and general horror “culture” with my trusty co-host Derek Sotak. I live in Queens, New York, and if you ever find yourself in New York City, I’m often available to grab a coffee (or a hamantaschen, naturally) and talk horror / ceaseless psychological torments. Over the years I’ve met several readers for coffee or at conventions, and you’ve never read any heinous news stories about any of these meetings, right? Right! That’s really all the commendation I can give to keep expectations correspondingly low.’
Hamantaschen (couldn’t resist the google challenge– ‘ a small triangular cake often made with yeast and filled with a mixture of poppy seeds and honey or with prune paste, prepared especially for the festival of Purim’) writes with such fine prose that even the very strange stories take on a beauty of language that is addicting.
An example (from ‘Bleecker and Bleaker; or, Gay for Muesli’) – ‘“SO, IT’S LIKE this,” Ken started, breaking through the lull in the conversation that took over at the gathered table. Ken paused to catch himself, noticing his thoughts were getting murky from the alcohol. He hated clichéd, rambly drunk-talk, and he wanted to make sure he sounded sharp and put-together with this next comment .... Actually, I’m Ken so it’s just easier if I tell this first-person. So ignore that first part in the third person. I’m Ken and this story is about me. Sorry for that, was going to go with an objective literary device but this is a subjective story so let’s be upfront about that and keep it that way from here on in. So, anyway, where was I? Right, sitting around the table, there was me, Tommy, Beth, Ron, Allison, and two or three other people I didn’t know. Beth and Allison were identical twins, and Tommy and Ron were each dating a sister. I was friends with Tommy, who was throwing the party at his three-bedroom apartment in Greenpoint, so I guess Aaron, Tommy’s roommate, and Aaron’s girlfriend were around, too; maybe one of them was also sitting at the table, I’m not sure. Greenpoint is a neighborhood in the northern part of Brooklyn, by the way, that used to be heavily Polish but is now heavily — correction — oppressively, hipster-twee. I’m not trying to be pretentious in telling you that part. I understand not everyone knows about New York neighborhoods so if you already knew that information, I apologize, just bear with me. So yeah, Tommy, you can do the math. Tommy had a three-bedroom in Greenpoint with only one roommate, so he was doing pretty well, or his Mommy and Daddy were doing well and sharing some of the largess with him, something I had no idea about but suspected. The suspicion was enough for me.’
Bizarre, yes, but such a delight to read that each of the eleven short stories of macabre horror, filled with estrangement, honor, wonder, terror, delusion, pity, desperation and perseverance bears re-reading – often. Hamantaschen is unique – a free spirit who translates his brainwaves well.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.