THE IMPELLED AND OTHER HEAD TRIPS
By Gary Fry
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
Writer, editor, publisher, Gary Fry gives the impression of having been around for quite a while but, unbelievable as it may seem, The Impelled is actually his debut collection and six of the eighteen stories included therein are original to the volume. So I guess he's still entitled to be numbered in the category of "emerging" voices, although his writing style as well as his hold on the plot and on the characters provide evidence that, as an author, he has already reached full maturity.
Most of the stories assembled in this book are fine examples of how good modern dark fiction can be without resorting to gore and violence. The term "psychological horror" has been used before and seems fitting to define the work of a writer who, in fact, has a cultural background in psychology. So, whatever the subject he's developing, Fry manages to create credible characters performing credible actions in credible situations. Which, for an art based on "suspension of disbelief" is a remarkable achievement. Obviously, not every story in the book will please everyone, including your reviewer, so I'll limit my comments to the tales that I found more compelling.
The title story, The Impelled, provides a fine psychological study of a woman discovering the terrible truth about her younger brother.
In Single Hit, an extraordinary, vivid tale told in an impeccable narrative style, a retired teacher and a former pupil, now turned into a rock star, meet again in reversed roles, while Pulp Friction is a surrealistic piece depicting how a writer's mistakes become his damnation.
Kiss and Tell skilfully faces the issue of our past conditioning our present by describing an episode in the life of a psychologist (the discovery of the murdered body of a raped woman during his very first date) which will influence all his subsequent life.
Illusio revolves around a family trip to Florida and the shocking encounter with American subculture which leads a man to reconsider the reality of his inner world.
In The Haunted Doll's House an excellent characterization graces a dark tale of betrayal, sex and murder in which a family tragedy takes place in a little girl's dollhouse.
Another winner is Peeping.com where a sexually repressed spinster gives way to her voyeurism to intrude in an affair which is not what appears to be.
0.05 provides a cute parody of scientific papers, of which it reproduces the general layout, the dry style and the obsessive search for statistical significance (i.e. the possibility that a result is fortuitous must be lower than five percent) whereas the creepy Inside Out effectively revisits the theme of the fool scientist.
In the superb The Trip a tragic adventure that occurred in his pre-teen years casts its shadow on the existence of an otherwise successful man, and in the captivating Home From Home a young man visiting for the first time his girlfriend's parents finds himself trapped in a nightmare.
The disquieting Now and Then tells how a man discovers the truth about himself and his parents as time and space freeze.
The final story, The Unmoored, where three friends spending the weekend on the moors have to face an unsuspected reality, is a longer and more ambitious piece showing that Fry is moving on (toward the inevitable novel, I guess). The story has some powerful moments and confirms the writer's skill in looking into the depths of human soul, but is slightly tainted here and there by an excess of intellectualism which dilutes the rhythm of the narrative. It seems that Fry, already an accomplished, excellent short story writer, is still struggling to become equally good in creating long fiction. He won't be long, I'm sure.
The Impelled and Other Head Trips by Gary Fry. TPB 243 pp, £ 10. Published by Crowswing Books and available from the publisher, Amazon and in the US from Shocklines
Website: - www.crowswingbooks.co.uk
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