Reading Lists of the Disturbed

Here is a shocking statement from someone who works in a library: reading lists are fun to keep. In addition to helping you remember exactly what you have read over time, they also produce a great sense of accomplishment. You can sit back in your chair, preferably an electric reclining one, and contemplate the many things you have read. If you have a tendency toward over analyzing what you have read, however, there can be a problem. While perusing my reading list, I recently noticed that the last three titles on my list were rather disturbing. How disturbing you ask? Let’s take a look.

The Wilds by Julia Elliott

While Julia Elliott’s collection of sthewildshort stories do not share an interconnected plot, they do share a distinctly creepy tone and feel. Most are set in a world just slightly in the future where an element of today is distorted and heightened for a disturbing effect. The story ‘Regeneration at Mukti’ is set in a new age clinic in the jungles of South America where the wealthy literally shed their skin to try to look younger. In ‘The Love Machine’ a synthetic artificial intelligence is flooded with hormones with disastrous results. ‘Organisms’ describes the T. hermeticus epidemic which zombifies adolescents and is spread through social media and video games. ‘Feral’ is set in a world where domestic dogs have reverted to the wild, roaming in large packs and threatening their former human masters. All the stories reflect Elliot’s masterful use of language and her ability to evoke a distinctive setting and feeling of growing unease.

Find Me by Laura Van den Berg

findmeIn this novel, Joy finds herself in an isolated hospital on the Kansas plains during the middle of winter. While her life before was mundane, working the graveyard shift at a convenience store and stealing cough syrup to numb the pain, she now finds herself in a unique position: one of the few people immune to a new sickness that begins with memory loss and ends in death. She and her fellow residents are subject to odd treatments and strange rules that make her question the medical staff and their motivations. When order breaks down, Joy finds the chance to escape and finds out for herself exactly what is going on in the wider world. While the dystopian setting might seem a bit too familiar, this novel is more about Joy and her relationships with her fellow patients, her long-lost mother, and her past. Van den Berg has a way of creating memorable, quirky, and disturbing characters, which are in great abundance as Joy makes her way through a damaged world.

All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld

allthebirdssingingJake Whyte lives in a small cottage on a rainy island off the British coast. Her only companions are a flock of sheep and her dog, simply named Dog. There are a few locals down at the pub and an odd man in a rumpled suit that shows up at her house one day, but for the most part she keeps herself to herself. The only problem is that someone or something is killing her sheep one by one in the night. As she tries to find out who or what the culprit is, traumatic and harrowing memories of her former life in Australia come flooding back. The past and present begin to merge. The line between what is real and what isn’t becomes harder to determine as she gets closer to finding out what exactly is killing her sheep in the night. Wyld is a master of vivid storytelling and doesn’t waste a word in her descriptions and dialog. She creates a truly a gripping story, but not one for the faint of heart.

So, if I’ve been reading disturbing books, does that mean I’m disturbed? Perhaps. But you can rest assured that these three books are well worth your limited reading time, whatever your psychological state.

Your Perfect Match

For some, short story collections can be a hard sell. Some readers want a specific beginning, middle, and end (preferably with a twist) to their works of fiction. Others want the sense of accomplishment that comes from getting to page 300 and still having a ways to the end. A short story is, well, short and really can’t deliver in either of these areas. Don’t give up on the form though. As a matchmaker might say, maybe you just haven’t met the right kind of short story. Perhaps it is a matter of shared interests. In order to help you find the right collection, here are four new works coupled with personality traits. It’s time to take the plunge.

If you like: different perspectives, economic downturns, Sherwood Anderson, drinking Guinness

spinningheartThe Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan is for you. While dubbed a novel, this work is actually a collection of interconnected short stories that reflect the thoughts and experiences of several members of a small Irish village. Each story is from a different villager’s perspective, but they all reflect the recent impact of the financial crisis that began in 2008 and the social conditions it brought about. This is hardly a political work though and is much more concerned with individuals and how they survive. Since the reader is privy to the characters innermost thoughts, each external event has multiple meanings depending on perspective. If you are a fan of the book Winesburg, Ohio you will really like this one.

If you like: complicated women, the desire to escape, family (kind of), oppressive Florida sunshine

isleofyouthThe Isle of Youth: Stories by Laura Van den Berg could be the one. Though the settings can be exotic (Patagonia, Antarctica, Paris, several in the hazy heat of Florida) the characters in these stories are all dealing with a sense of detachment from the ‘norm’. A failing relationship, be it with family, a partner, or societal expectations, serves as the catalyst for an attempt at self-examination. The author also adds a great neo-noir feel, especially in the stories set in Florida, which adds to the atmosphere. The story titled Opa-locka, with a sister detective team working for a former Opera singer who suspects her husband of infidelity, is a real stand out and was recently chosen as one of the O. Henry Prize short story winners.

If you like: violent modern fables, an extremely dark sense of humor, unreliable narrators, explosions

corpseexhibitionThe Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq by Hasan Balasim might just be the ticket. The grim, brutal, and often darkly funny stories in this collection are all products of wartime Iraq. Don’t expect to find a political or historical angle, however. Instead you get a series of fantastical and surreal tales ranging from a middle manager at a terrorist guild using artistic merit as the bar for success (The Corpse Exhibition) to a radio game show with traumatized contestants competing to tell the most horrific tale (The Song of the Goats). What comes through in all of these stories is the intense desire to tell a tale. It might be true, it might not, but the ability to tell it to another is of the utmost importance.

If you like: brevity, a straightforward style, disturbing undertones, Havarti cheese

karatechopKarate Chop: Stories by Dorthe Nors is your kind of book. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly mundane tone and setting. Underneath the surface of these very brief stories, lies some really intriguing yet disturbing stuff. The author can take an everyday activity (a walk in the park, searching the Internet) and expose the complex thoughts and emotions involved simply by examining the event closely. The author’s combination of economical prose and the short length of the stories themselves leads to a streamlined and ultimately pleasing effect. This is the first book translated into English by this Danish author and hopefully not the last.

Hopefully you have found a collection or two that has piqued your interest. No need for a long-term commitment. These are short stories after all.