By James Cooper

Reviewed by Christopher Teague

Before I begin this review proper, I have a disclosure to make: I've rejected this author for publication.

When Cooper sent me his tale for consideration, I read it and thought, "Who is this guy?" The writing was good, very good, but the tale didn't - ahem - resonate with me. Anyway, the moment I sent off the rejection, I began to see his name crop up here, there and everywhere; even Postscripts and Cemetery Dance magazine (both magazines notoriously difficult for a new writer to break). Such feats don't half make you doubt your own editorial ability, I can tell you: if I can't "discover" such talent...

Anyway, back to the collection: Humdrumming produce very nice books - in the hands of lesser mortals, a book of white-space would look cheap, but in the four-fingers and opposable thumbs of the affable Guy Adams along with the Canadian typefondler Ian Alexander Martin, it looks rather lovely.

And the stories? It is rare for a short-story collection not to contain a single dud, and the last time I read such a peerless collection was from Mark Samuels and his superb collection The White Hands and Other Tales. Cooper not just eschews the dynamics of modern horror, but also the classics of the genre; sixteen tales of redemption and distress (though several of these were co-written with Andrew Jury, who provides the Afterword, which - ahem - resonated with me, being also a Thatcher's child who grew up in the self-same land of coal).

As stated, I did not find a single dud tale in the book - though naturally, I had my favourites:

In Fetu was originally published in Postscripts, and is a downright disturbing tale - not just because it's fiction, but due to the fact it's based on truth - the condition is real, albeit very rare, and even though I have no children myself, Cooper give so much life to the married protagonists, he must have been entirely drained of emotion the moment he clicked SAVE. An absolute classic.

The theme of childhood crops up often in the collection, but The Constant Eye is just fantastic at displaying the darker side of growing up (reminds me of Roald Dahl and John Wyndham, through the eyes of Ken Loach).

The Skin I'm In takes the whole body-modification thing to the nth degree, at the hands of a mentally disturbed protagonist and his wallpaper-steamer machine.

Cooper (and Jury)'s tales are not masterly original, but they take you to places which are entirely believable; grounded in the reality of the modern world and the madness that surrounds it.

There has always been a division in horror and supernatural fiction between "quiet" and "gore"--this collection is pretty much of the quiet variety, yet the writing is more than capable of being sickening and bloodthirsty (especially The Skin I'm In) yet it has an almost Joycian quality to the prose, which makes Graham Joyce's quote very apt.

Thoroughly recommended and well-worth reading.

You Are the Fly by James Cooper. Humdrumming paperback, 179pp, £8.99/$19.99US (for other countries refer to publisher's website). Available from the publisher and other online outlets.

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