The Other World: Stories by John Stewart Wynne

The Other World: Stories by John Stewart Wynne
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Historical, Horror
Length: Short Story (97 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Paranoia, psychotic breaks, danger, fear, loneliness, yearning. This acclaimed short story collection, first published by City Lights, is peopled by sociopaths, circus performers, tattooed drifters, cross-dressing teenagers and God-fearing families. Its hallucinatory edge makes the everyday seem like another world.

Is it ever possible to prepare for something that you don’t know is coming for you?

Sometimes the most frightening tales are the ones that feel like they could really happen. Everything in this collection sounds like something I could have read about in the local paper. None of the villains were capable of supernatural feats and all of the heroes had moments of uncertainty or hesitation which made following along on their journeys even more rewarding.

The Other World chilled me to the bone from the very first scene. The eerie atmosphere intensified my apprehension about Pete especially as I grew to know more about his proclivities. His parents’ inability to see what was really happening only made the situation worsen. I only wish we had more information about how Pete developed this particular hobby as most monsters aren’t born that way.

“Nameless Thing” had a fast-paced, attention-grabbing introduction but I never understood what Hilda saw in Elb. His poorly-controlled temper, habitual dishonesty and lack of personal boundaries outshone his positive qualities to such a degree that I had a hard time believing he was the third wheel of the love triangle.

What does it feel like to be emotionally smothered? In “Raphael” we meet a teenager who has tasted just enough freedom to realize what he’s missing. This was by far my favorite part of the collection. Kathryn’s ability to twist even something as horrifically inappropriate as offering to bathe her teenage son into an example of her motherly devotion sent a shudder down my spine. I only wish I could know what happens to these characters after the climax!

“Lights of Broadway” painted one of the most sympathetic portraits of the relationship between a prostitute and her john that I’ve ever read. Beth and Val grew up in the same neighbourhood. While he technically does pay her for occasional sex their interactions feel more like what I would expect to see between a pastor and a member of her congregation. Clearly Beth is the voice of reason in this relationship. The question is, will Val listen to her? I changed my mind about the answer to it several times before the answer was revealed.

The creepiest premise by far in this book belongs to “Halloween Card.” Sadly, Jane, the narrator, is so influenced by intoxicating substances that I was never quite sure how much of what she described was actually taking place. By the end of it I wondered if Jane was actually hallucinating in a dark bedroom somewhere. I loved the first few scenes, though, and do think this idea would bloom if it was given more time to grow.

“Vulture” is full of imagery that dances back into my thoughts when I’m falling asleep. The people and places that Pat and Davy meet are so vivid I feel as though I’ve personally experienced them. What didn’t make sense to me, though, was exactly how a certain violent scene took place. The narrator skimmed over the details to such an extent that I spent the next several scenes wondering what else he had lied to me about. Eventually I figured out what had probably happened, but it was jarring to not know how trustworthy this particular character was for that length of time.

This is a collection that deserves to be savoured. Several stories were even more engrossing when I read them for the second time, and I expect that they will grow even better my third time around.

The Other World: Stories is full of frights that can be found in any home, neighbourhood or culture. We don’t need to invent creatures that bump in the night in order the fear the dark. Sometimes human beings are the scariest monsters of all.

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