Book Title: A Flutter of Darkness
Author: Jason Lavelle
Publication Date: January 16, 2020
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
The darkness that resides in the soul of each and every one of us is a fascinating concept. It’s all around us in the form of life experiences that have shaped who we are throughout our lives. We cringe in fear of it or we embrace it wholeheartedly and let it drive us forward. Either way, it’s a motivational force in our lives to be reckoned with, for better or for worse.
This collection examines those ideas with ambition and even with gleeful abandon, exploring ambitious ideas through the lenses of characters imbued with personality. You get stories of paranormal possession, gun rights and violent fights, serial killers in nightclubs, escapes from dystopia, a reality show gone wrong, teenagers stranded on a deserted island who break into cliques and a disabled child with a love of reading and a lively imagination. Let’s not forget the veterinary clinic with a twist.
There are also stories about a man who makes the biggest discovery of his life, tattoos that have unusual effects on people’s lives, a startling journey into dementia, teddy bear/human hybrids, one woman’s long-anticipated wedding day, near-death experiences and a homeless girl who comes to idolize an unusual man. Where else can you find such variety?
Each tale is unique, standing out from one another distinctively. Each one also moves from one genre to another. From science fiction to horror to the paranormal and thriller genres, there’s a wealth of ideas here. There are serial killers, strange occurrences, harrowing circumstances, broken souls, desperate times, gallows humor and dystopian futures.
There’s also a wealth of detail that really brings the stories to life in a way that immersed me in them. From the methods used to apply a tattoo to the way a mortician prepares and embalms a body, it’s clear that the author went the extra mile to get all of these little details just right to make these stories as accurate as possible while seamlessly integrating them into the tales he has to tell.
To accomplish this, he also populates his stories with characters that are nuanced, psychologically damaged or just plain fascinating. They all feel like friends or family that you’ve known for a long time. Or it could even be someone you know who lives next door that just creeps you out. No matter which character you meet, they just feel so real. They’re filled with personality and vulnerability that absorbed me into their precarious situations so I could relate and understand them on a deeper level. Even if what I found there just scared the hell out of me.
There are also some subtler themes at work that only become more noticeable once you’ve read through the entire collection. How parents view children and teenagers, sometimes as a burden, sometimes as a gift and sometimes through the wonder in which they look at the world. The author is very attuned to how children think and react to the world around them. From their innocence to their angst, he uses these ideas in storytelling ways I’ve not seen before.
The author also has a keen sensitivity to how anxiety fuels us, drives us and its ramifications on our actions, as well as how modern society treats it with medication. It’s infused into some of these stories in sly and clever ways, adding an extra layer of insight and understanding into the human psyche and how it operates.
Yet, even amidst all this darkness, there are some glimmers of hope, some light to hold our fears at bay. In a short story collection filled with these kinds of tales, this kind of ingredient adds an unpredictable variety to this collection. It’s not all doom and gloom but it does showcase how the author can deftly spin a captivating yarn.
Even with a wonderful collection like this where all the stories enrapture me, there are three that stand above the rest.
“Secret Life of Pets” – In a dystopian society where there are strict controls that separate the haves from the have nots, a veterinarian named Nora takes care of the pets that people bring into her clinic. Many of them have been abused, hurt, frightened or just poorly taken care of. Nora nevertheless takes care of them and deals with a wide range of despicable owners. But when she meets one particular pet, she begins to see another side of things, leading her down a dangerous path. What will happen to her when she defies the rules?
This novella upset me the most and caused me such rage at how people treat their pets. It hurt on many levels and was the most outrageous concept in this collection with exquisite execution. It also induced nausea at how vile some owners treat their pets. When owners treat their pets like possessions and therefore are considered easily disposable when they display unwanted behaviors, it is a ghastly concept that turned my stomach. The big twist enraptured me the most and I couldn’t stop reading at how this concept was used.
“Dementia” – When seventeen-year-old Leigh and her mother visiting Grandma Hazel in her nursing home, they find her catatonic, which sadly, is considered normal for her. But when Grandma hold’s Leigh’s hand, it brings her on such a whirlwind adventure that Leigh would never have expected. What is going on here?!?
This one was a surprise from the beginning to the end. It lulls you into a false sense of security, where you think you know what you can expect and then the carpet is pulled out right from under you. Leigh’s adventure is so unexpected and revelatory, it suspensefully led into a finale with a jaw-dropper on top of it! It also really captures the depressing atmosphere of a nursing home, the feelings of sadness and impending death it brings about and really sets the mood for what is to come.
“Her Dance” – Courtney’s wedding day is finally here, and she is filled with the joy of marrying her true love. As we learn the history of her relationship and follow her preparations for the big day, the anticipation builds. Her life, brimming with happiness, all leads her to the altar, culminating in one big crucial moment, which defines the story completely.
Never has a story imbued with such passion and love of life brought me to such emotional heights and then completely crushed me with its ending. So beautiful and yet, so tragic in a way that I could never predict. It really stirred my emotions and was so powerful in its execution that I almost cried afterward. If you could capture the heights of happiness and distill it into one short story for all time, this would be the example I would point to.
I was introduced to Jason Lavelle’s short stories through “Tales from the Canyons of the Damned”, an ongoing anthology series that publishes original short stories. This series now numbers thirty-six issues and counting, with no signs of stopping. That first story, “Utopia”, was published in issue twelve of “Canyons” and the author has gone on to publish three more additional short stories in the “Canyons” series since then. Each one of those was excellent as well. So, when I learned that advance copies of this ebook were available, it was an easy decision to read and review this collection.
Overall, this is a fantastic collection of fifteen short stories and novellas. It’s the perfect blend of different genres, bold storytelling and imaginative concepts that stimulate your senses while causing your heart to flutter with each one. I ran through a wide range of the emotional spectrum while reading them, as they were emotionally charged and thought-provoking.
Such feelings of desperation, depression, anxiety, and fear all were mixed with mystery, thrills and the compulsion to keep on reading, no matter how disturbing the stories were or how queasy they made me. Such perceptiveness of emotions and how to effectively utilize it in a story that reaches into your heart and doesn’t it let go is one of the author’s greatest strengths.
Each one also features astonishing, gut-punching twists that blindsided me when I discovered what they were. I wholeheartedly recommend this collection to anyone who wants to read highly original and brilliantly twisted stories that will make you want to consult with a cardiologist after you’ve finished reading it.
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