What Are We Reading?: You Know It's True, by JR Hamantaschen
5/5 Frail Human Psyches Laid Bare
Give me the short version:
Characters struggle like flies trapped in the existential web of their lives.
Gird your mental loins for what a cynic would call another clinical Hamantaschen discussion of the human condition—except truthfully there's nothing cynical about these stories; more a profound tongue-in-cheek compassion for the way his characters are stripped and paraded about for our delectation.
As JR says himself: "All the JR trademarks are there: self-loathing, depression, delusions of grandeur, a granular focus on a small-scale twist, weird mental and sexual hang-ups, revulsion of bodily functions ..."
This is the fourth collection of his that I've enjoyed, so I know those trademarks well. I progressed at a very slow reading pace, about a story a fortnight because they are so fraught and damnit we're in a pandemic people, I need to horde my emotional bandwidth. Characters struggle like flies trapped in the existential web of their lives, and overall the variety of stories on offer all handled with the same deft skill is breathtaking.
Standout favourites for me were House Katz, more traditionally formatted with its sudden onslaught of feline apocalypse; and the transcendental fire of For Most Of My Sad Life I Figured I Would Just Die Alone, which despite its dark matter delivers a message of hope and self-belief. Nothing Goes Wrong From the Couch was a very close third, beginning with the everyday and landing firmly in paranoid alien bug horror.
The author's notes at the end of each story were invaluable, enriching understanding with the context of how the piece came about, and elevating even the stickiest narratives above their shock value.
"The cat in the lead, an orange Maine Coon, spit and hissed ferociously, his nails between the holes in the screen, pulling and flailing with the almost-frenzied panic of a man who'd just caught his penis in the zipper, or, perhaps more seriously, someone trying to wrench his arm out of the mouth of a ravenous dog."