I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.first communions by Geoffrey Girard
Published by Apex Book Company on April 12 2016
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The nitty-gritty: A bunch of stories that will make you very uncomfortable. And that’s a good thing!
God watches as you bring another into the room. He does not take his eyes off you. Sits in his LifeChair exactly where you parked him two days before. White beard and tubes. His cartridge core throbs, like his eyes, with the dim glow of something still clutching at life. You will do him last.
I had my first taste of Geoffrey Girard’s unique brand of dark horror a couple of years ago when I read his YA novel Project Cain, which dealt with the not-so-young-adult subject of serial killers. When I ran across his short story collection, first communions, I immediately requested a review copy from the publisher. Not all authors can write both novels and short fiction well, but Girard, in my humble opinion, is one of those that can. first communions includes sixteen tales that span over twelve years of published short fiction. He got his start as a Writers of the Future winner in 2003 (and that story, Dark Harvest, is part of this collection) and he hasn’t looked back since.
first communions is a solid collection that shows just how weird and wonderful short stories can be. I was alternately horrified, sick to my stomach, creeped out, or close to tears as I was reading, so bravo to Girard for eliciting so many emotions. As strong as the collection is, though, not every story worked well for me. One in particular just seemed silly (H.E. Double Hockey Sticks) and a couple were almost too disturbing (Collecting James and Universal Adaptor). But I loved the fact that each one felt different from the last, and I applaud Girard for taking risks and trying different styles of storytelling.
I was pleased to see notes for each story at the end of the collection, something I wish all writers would include. I find I can easily read a novel without having to know much about the author’s inspiration, but when it comes to short stories, I’m much more curious about how the story evolved. My most common reaction while reading first communions? Where the hell did that idea come from? Luckily, some of my questions were answered, as Girard gives us at least one healthy paragraph per story, answering the “whys” and the “hows” and yes, the “wheres.”
What sets this author apart from other short story writers is that his story endings, for the most part, completely took me by surprise. There’s a certain comfort in knowing where a story is going, but Girard takes that comfort away by not going in the direction you’re expecting.
Below are my top six favorite stories: (Why six? I don’t know, I just really loved these!)
Unto the Lord a New Song – This was my second time reading this story, which first appeared in Apex’s anthology Appalachian Dead. It took me a few pages before I realized I had read it before, and it was just as good the second time around. In a zombie infested future society, a boy maintains a very, er, unusual church choir. Zombies. Choir. I’ll let you put the pieces together.
What You Know – I’m quite sure this tale came directly from Girard’s experiences with teaching. A third grade teacher tells her students to “write what you know,” only to discover that their stories of monsters and crazed killers are coming true. The story is interspersed with short paragraphs instructing the teacher on how to evaluate the assignments. This one made me laugh and gasp in horror at the same time.
For Restful Death I Cry – One of my favorites, this story takes place in the future, where a contraption called the LifeChair can extend a person’s life to hundreds of years. But in the wake of an apocalyptic event, crews of demolition teams are tasked with dismantling the nuclear cartridge cores that keep these creatures alive and demo-ing the concrete “retirement homes” where thousands live. This is one of those endings that came out of nowhere and floored me.
Dark Harvest – In a small village, townsfolk discover the body of a Witchman, a creature who is a virtual killing machine. But this one isn’t quite dead, as they soon discover after dragging it to a barn and standing watch. I loved the way the people in the village start out terrified of the Witchman, only to become braver after an unexpected shift of power.
Crawl – This was the only story in the bunch (if I’m remembering correctly) that didn’t have any supernatural elements. But that doesn’t mean it was horrifying! Are you scared of tarantulas? How do you feel about going out in the middle of the night in the desert and hunting them, drawing them out of their holes in the ground? As much as I hate creepy crawlies of all sorts, what drew me to this story were the three young boys who hunt the tarantulas. Set in Mexico, Girard not only scares us, but gives us a poignant tale of a struggling class of people with less than ideal family lives.
Translatio – A man with an unseen “master” is compelled to write about future horrors in his journals. Can he see into the future, or is he actually making these things happen? The story starts with the man describing the odd, balloon-shaped alien creatures that hover over houses and randomly grab people when they need to eat. At first I thought that’s what the story was about, but we soon discover that there is so much more to fear.
If you’re in the mood for something short, stories that will shock and horrify and make you think twice about what’s really out there hiding in the shadows, then first communions is a great choice. You may not get exactly what you are expecting, but I guarantee those unexpected moments will stay with you long after the stories are over.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Check back next week for my interview with Geoffrey, as well as a giveaway of a signed copy of first communions!