Ugly Little Things by Todd Keisling

ugly-little-things-254x4002xDisclaimer: I received an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

Don’t you just love that cover? It doesn’t just look cool, but also serves as an introduction to this collection since most of the stories feature disembodied hands, hands reaching out of murky water, hands reaching out of the depths of space, or something like that. Let’s face it. Hands not attached to anything are creepy. By the way, there’s also some nifty artwork accompanying each story within.

Ugly Little Things by Todd Keisling starts out with “A Man in Your Garden”, a second person story that I found frightening, surprising, and dream-like. It actually reminds me of a scene I wrote in my book, Innocence, In a Sense, in which a character looks out his window and sees someone standing in his backyard, but we’re not here to talk about me.

“Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave” is about an old man waiting for the return of his deceased wife. I particularly liked this line about how over time we start to talk like the people closest to us: “She was a part of him even in speech, living on as a linguistic phantom that could not be exorcised.” However, I have to admit, I didn’t care for this story overall. “Radio Free Nowhere” is a modern take on the lure of the siren’s song. I didn’t personally care for this one either, but everybody’s tastes are different. You might love it.

“The Otherland Express” is about a teenager running away from an abusive father to meet someone he met online. I found him to be the most real character so far. He seemed like a real person and I found myself rooting for him. On the downside, I did think the internal monologue was often unnecessary. I think most readers would have a pretty good idea what the character is thinking without being told just based on what’s happening. Sometimes, less is more, y’know? This one started out promising, but I couldn’t suspend my disbelief when the supernatural element showed up.

I guessed that “Saving Granny from the Devil” was at least partly autobiographical since the main character shares his name with the author (this is confirmed by the story notes at the end.) It starts with bullies locking Toddy into a kennel with a dead dog in a truly horrifying scene. I liked how the Devil was portrayed in this story. He’s not just the embodiment of evil as you’d expect, but is based more on the Bible’s portrayal of him. This story is highly recommended.

“The Darkness Between Dead Stars” is about a space mission gone awry. I liked the mystery of it and the unanswered questions we were left with. “Human Resources” is a humorous story written in the form of an email. “House of Nettle and Thorn” takes place in a sorority house from hell. There’s a reference to “the last reconciliation” which make me wonder how it’s tied to the final story in this volume.

“When Karen Met Her Mountain” is a revenge fantasy (I Spit on Your Grave is mentioned as an influence in the story notes at the end). Karen’s deceased father speaks to her throughout the story, helping her out. I don’t know why she and her husband didn’t call the police when they first saw the accident, but then I guess there wouldn’t be a story. I usually don’t like revenge fantasies, but this one had more substance to it than most. We learn about Karen’s past and sit in on conversations she had with her psychologist. Another favorite in this collection.

“The Harbinger” reminded me of H.P. Lovercraft’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth”, especially the part where the town drunk warns the reporter about the town’s dark secret. Sure enough, “Innsmouth” is listed as an influence in the story notes. Called it! Although I should mention the story isn’t simply a retelling of “Innsmouth”, just partly inspired by it. The reporter in question writes for a toy magazine and is there to interview a doll maker, and as you’d expect from a horror story, there are plenty of creepy dolls. Like in the previous story, our narrator hears the voice of a former loved one in his head. In this case, it’s his ex-wife. And of course, there’s a scene with hands emerging from water again.

This collection rounds out with the excellent “The Final Reconciliation” which I’ve reviewed elsewhere as it was originally published as a stand alone book. Another highly recommended story.

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