I read a number of reviews of this book from bloggers I trust. Jenners described this collection of short stories as "unsettling" and "atmospheric", declaring all the characters haunted. She even suggested that Chaon was channeling his inner Steven King. Marie described the book as edgy and claims that you won't need any caffeine to stay awake while reading it. Swapna recommends it if you want something dark but quick. These are all astute descriptions. I would agree with all of those comments.
I am all about disturbing stories that creep into the safe places in your mind. I was thrilled that my library had this on audio. However, I'm not sure everything worked as well for me as it did everyone else. Let's discuss.
There are twelve stories here, unrelated to one another (even though I experienced moments of dejavu). Every character is suffering mentally and sometimes physically from the losses and pain they have endured in their lives. None of them are very sympathetic, but strangely real, for all the surreal plots involved.
There are also elements of supernatural, and sometimes it is hard to tell when reality ends and the bizarro begins. Sometimes I questioned whether my senses were on overdrive and I was imagining things. It was all very dreamlike. Nightmare-like.
The stories seemed nearly drug-induced: A young man physically and mentally deteriorates while he lives in a rotting house where his parents committed suicide. A man and his new family are haunted by a son he abandoned years ago. A couple who, because of fertility treatments, have given birth to a two-headed baby, and must consider the surgical removal of the parasitic head. A woman who goes through a mid-life crisis by rekindling a sexual relationship with her brain-damaged ex-husband.
There were a good number of stories that I just didn't get. I'd be going along, following the story, then at the end Chaon would pull the rug out from under me. I was left completely confused about what just happened. Was this because I was listening to the audio and missed the hints and nuances? Perhaps. I have DNF'd more than one collection of short stories on audio for that reason.
I did love the atmosphere though. Very sinister and spooky, even if there was nothing spooky happening.
A few words about the audio production: Despite the fact that I think listening to these stories added confusion to my experience, I did enjoy the narrator. Kirby Heyborne has narrated just about all genres, and even has narrated Stephen King's "The Long Walk".
3 out of 5 stars