ARE YOU THERE AND OTHER STORIES by Jack Skillingstead
She turned deliberately away and began to shuffle off. Â Danny felt powerfully compelled to go after her. Â Only the thought of his mother waking to discover him gone prevented him from trotting behind the Old Woman like an obedient puppy. Even so, he found he could not easily turn his gaze aside; he had to back off, tripping over the curb, stumbling. His fever seemed to gain intensity. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. The woman halted and looked over her bony shoulder at him, her black eye widening in surprise.
“My, you’re a strong one, aren’t you?” she said.
At which point wrenched himself free and ran home.
Review by Ann Wilkes (APR 2, 2010)
Jack Skillingstead has a unique voice and a penetrating view of this world and beyond its confines. The stories in Are You There and Other Storiesrun dark and tragic, but are immensely rich and engaging. The depth he reaches with his characters is only surpassed by his talent for pushing the reader into uncharted territories of space, time and mind.
Some of the stories are written in the universe of his first novel, Harbinger, which is also reviewed here at Mostly Fiction. My favorite story in this collection, “Scatter,” involves an undead man who carries on as a film noir detective, appearing as characters out of Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon in his digital projections. His business, however, is more real than he is and is interrupted by a woman entering his office wearing a tight skirt and a confident air. She sees into him and disrupts his existence.
In “Double Occupancy,” Skillingstead nails the guilt and sense of responsibility that drives an older brother to nurture and protect his younger sister after their parents are gone. Of course this is what goes on beneath the real action: he discovers that her boyfriend has unwittingly brought monsters to Earth from another dimension.
In “Rescue Mission,” we find a man who is called by an alien siren song. The “sirens” alter his perceptions using his own memory against him to keep him on their planet for purposes of study and companionship. He must find the real voice, the real Natalie from the ship who is trying to rescue him.
“Cat in the Rain,” depicts a man on the outskirts of social interaction. He is a loner and becoming far too comfortable in his own world, withdrawn from others. Like wild animals that isolate the runts and the laggers in a herd to make a meal of them, his isolation has become the tool of an unseen enemy seeking to suck him into a vortex, from which his replacement would enter our world.
Skillingstead steps into the mind of an old widowed woman who is losing her faculties in “Thank You, Mr. Whiskers.” He portrays her fears, confusion and frustration brilliantly. Her husband subverted her opinions and desires. Now that she is free of his control, she is trapped in a failing mind. Did she really kill that young black man who seemed too interested in her comings and goings by wishing him dead? In this story, Skillingstead posits a very different, very lonely version of life after death.
From “Here’s Your Space,” I present my favorite first line of a story to date: “The aliens tasted like tofu, kind of bland.” The novel also sports an awesome cover by John Picacio.
Unlike many short story collections, this collection was full of winners. There wasn’t a single story among them I didn’t like. You might want to watch Mary Poppins or read doses of light-hearted stories with happy endings while reading this book, but read it you should. You also might want to sleep with the light on if you read it at bedtime. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 1 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Golden Gryphon Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2009)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Are You There? and Other Stories|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Jack Skillingstead|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|