Sunday, September 4, 2016

Existential dread with a supernatural kick

Faithfully and Lovingly

By J. R. Hamantaschen


Publisher: West Pigeon Press 

Pub. Date: July 8, 2016

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

J.R Hamantaschen, like his namesake pastry, has many layers and a sly mix of tart and sweet. It is said that hamantasch is pyramid shaped to represent the die to be cast to determine the destruction of the Jews. It is eerily apt since Hamantaschen's stories strike a balance between a complex look at humans in their most intimate ways and a cynical view that we as individuals are doomed to self-destruction by our own hands...and maybe a little shove by the supernatural.

In Faithfully and Lovingly, Brian is in love with his fiance Katy. It is an insecure love that leaves him doubting and trying to fix it any time she is unhappy or angry with him. What he isn't seeing is that their relationship is starting to unravel. One night when he is desperate to please her, he goes out to get some of her favorite flavor of ice cream. While he is out, a horrific event happens that changes life for both of them.

That is where the synopsis has to stop. It is no spoiler to say there is a supernatural element. But what that is and how it affects both of them is too creative and dramatic to reveal. In fact, it is the essence of the rest of the story. What is important here is that the author's focus on Brian's obsession and anxiety fuels the telling of this short novella. I have read a collection of his short fiction in the past and enjoyed it but this novella seems to give his storytelling a little more dimension. It is hard to describe his style. I would describe it as having the subtlety and insight of a Michael Chabon with the dread and doom of Lovecraft. But despite the supernatural element, it is a personal and existential doom. Hamantaschen's existential angst has the sound of creaky doors and nightmare screams behind it.

Despite being independently published, or perhaps because of it, Hamantaschen appears to have picked up a small cult following. I can see why. His stories are different and don't always go where you want them to. I am not always convinced with his endings, which like here, ends up abrupt and leaves the reader hanging. Yet getting there is where the joy or dread is. I think you will like this but don't be surprised if it finds you thinking about your own relationship and feeling a bit insecure.

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