By Colin O'Sullivan

Reviewed by Paul Bradshaw

If Colin O'Sullivan had been around maybe eight to ten years ago no doubt he would have been one of the large band of independent writers submitting short works of fiction to the impressive array of horror/dark fiction small press magazines that were around at that time. The tales in this debut collection remind me very much of the stuff that was being published in those magazines during that period. Actually, perusing the credits at the front of the book, I see that some of these stories have appeared in various online and 'offline' (is that the correct term?) publications; ones with names like Invisible Insurrection, Prose Toad, Red Fez, Skive Magazine, Whispers of Wickedness, and others. I have heard of none of them save the latter mentioned WoW... I think I've been out of the loop for too long! I do not intend to stray off into a rant about how easier it is to set up an online fiction publication as opposed to an actual flesh-and-blood feel-the-touch hold-in-your-hands magazine; I am here to talk about Anhedonia, which is what I will do.

One thing strikes me about most of the characters that appear in Colin O'Sullivan's tales here, and that is the fact that they possess minds that are rather unhinged and unstable. The opening story What Did You Do With My Salamander? reminds me of a mix of the Michael Keaton movie The Dream Team, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and the Charles Manson/Sharon Tate episode. Five 'hospital inmates' flee in a stolen bus and take a journey that ends ultimately in a revenge bloodbath. Example of one of the characters: he sawed his wife in half without ever considering how to make it look like a trick...

In The Suicide Man the main character Simon hears a knock at his front door and the man on the doorstep explains that he has come 'to assist him with his suicide'. This is a clever, original tale, in which Simon insists that he has no intention of committing suicide, at least not before his visitor arrived. When the final denouement arrives we are left wondering whether the Suicide Man ever came to the house at all. Oh, and the Do's and Don't's of the 'exit procedure' is a real gem to read.

The thing about short stories is they hardly ever begin in the right way. Aren't they supposed to contain something in the opening paragraph that hits you right off, something memorable and stunning that convinces you to read on, to discover what exactly is going to happen further and what the heck that first paragraph was all about? Consider this then, the beginning to Insurrection On:

The night train runs all night like it is supposed to do. It snakes through the city without stopping, riding over the high-rises, money offices, state brothels and soup kitchens. They all hear it, but see it only if they can bear it, and they know not the secrets that it keeps inside. When the Agency demanded that it run all night the people of the city shuddered. Now they keep their eyes down, for they are seen in all they do. This is what the night train does; it sees them in their doing. This is what the night train is supposed to do.

Now doesn't that conjure up all kinds of questions? What is this night train? What is its purpose? How can it ride over the high-rises? What is the Agency? What are the secrets that it keeps inside? Heck, doesn't it beg for you to read on?

When we do read on we discover that the two men who run the train, namely Skin and Bone, are watching the city's inhabitants through their windows. And when they spot a fat man in one of the houses they begin to worry, because the Agency would never allow anyone to become so huge. Their quandary is whether to stop the train to investigate or not, and if you do read on you find out just what Skin and Bone choose to do!

Avenging The Stilts Man introduces us to the character Tony C, who reminds me very much of the Big Vern character in Viz magazine. Big Vern mistakes normal and innocent activities, such as a trip to the supermarket, for criminal escapades, such as armed robberies or kidnappings. In other words, he thinks he is something that he is not, i.e. a gangland mobster. Similarly Tony C thinks he is something he is not, and when he witnesses a man on stilts falling over when hitting an overhead electrical cable he vows that someone will pay for it. Tony resists taking certain actions throughout the tale, describing it as 'too risky'. Typical Big Vern!

Like paparazzi gone crazy, a man is seen photographing a woman's trash in her dustbin outside her home. This is the opening to Nuisances, and the woman's curiosity is aroused upon witnessing such a weird action. So she flings all her underwear in the trash... 'a woman like her has no need for such things anyway'...? The stranger takes great delight in photographing the underwear. So she has a special big surprise for him in her trash the following night. Oh yes, and then there are the scavenging raccoons... little buggers.

If you think things can't get any stranger, in Pawn a man arrives at a pawn shop with his wife's virginity in a box. This tale makes Walter de la Mare's Odd Shop appear positively tame. And the book ends with Seven Recent Episodes, a tale in seven parts, only told backwards, starting with seven and ending in one, a swift, frantic story of a violent crime of passion, and bloody hell it works, the backward thing works!

Colin O'Sullivan shows tremendous promise; original ideas, a simple effective prose style, and quirky characters. The stories are easy to read, with no large, intrusive words whose meanings you don't know. Do you remember the old Janet and John books that were used to teach boys and girls to read many years ago? They contained something like this:

John is sitting by the window. Janet is outside on a bicycle. Janet smiles at John. John begins to masturbate laugh.

You get the idea. Colin O'Sullivan's writing is akin to this, simple to read and digest. Most of the tales work, although some of them don't do it for me. Like In Wards, where Michael decides for some reason I cannot fathom to tell his old friend Jane an embarrassing secret. The finale to the story I myself found embarrassing, and not because it contains the word 'penis'. The Obituaries is quite short, just over a page long, but a waste to me all the same, quite pointless. The Woods tackles suicide once again, and leaves me with one word nagging at my brain... why?

Yet all of that is a mere blip, because I found the collection quite entertaining, and look forward to more work from this writer.

Anhedonia by Colin O'Sullivan. Tpb, 257pp, CA$17.95 (approx US$15.26) plus P&P. Available from Rain Publishing.

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