*I originally posted a short verision of this on Goodreads, but didn’t feel that I had properly done my opinion justice. The publisher’s site is here.
Transgressive fiction is pretty niche, and this book embraces that. This isn’t to say that the stories aren’t varied, they are. There’s a great range of talent from authors that I wasn’t familiar with at all, as well as a mix of genres. When I saw this anthology pop up on Kickstarter I was intrigued enough to back it. Let me just say that, if hindsight is 20/20, then I am on occasion, a genius. This is a quality anthology.
Each author’s contribution did what it was supposed to do, challenge the reader’s perspective by presenting people who articulated themselves in ways that are generally not, shall we say, expected. There were people who were down and out, criminals, scumbags, victims, and so on. As I said, there was a great range presented in this collection. There are a couple of authors whose works I’m going to explore further after reading their stories. That’s a success as far as short story collections are concerned.
One example of a standout I particularly enjoyed Isaac and Me by Don Logan. The story started out with a guy killing his wife, only to end up living on the streets. When he befriends a male prostitute, his life takes a turn for the better. However, the book’s conclusion was a great surprise, and this was an excellent psychological thriller. I’ve shortlisted this author for the sake of checking out other things they may have written.
There were other stories that rubbed homicide and mental illness in the readers faces, as if the author wanted mash the audiences nose in shit. Some of the stories were, in a word, ‘abrasive’. This was the point though. Figure out where the line is in respectable daily life, and intentionally cross over it so as to linger in the shadows where less pleasant things are concelaed.
Other reviews have pointed out that there is a fairly mixed group of authors, and this is also a positive. It’s one thing to have a range of content, but it’s refreshing to see that equal attention was probably paid to content creators. Fiction as a whole benefits from this. There are too may perspectives to leave people out, intentionally or not.
Where the book faltered was that I didn’t feel like my assumptions of proper conduct in society were challenged enough. It’s one thing to show people acting in ways that might not meet our expectations, but that’s not enough. There needs to be a contrast of where the actions deviate away from what’s regarded as normal. Here and there, yes, that sort of juxtaposition is present in small quantities. Yet, more often than not I had the impression that the authors were trying to toe the line of what would be considered “shocking” to the average reader, but that was enough on it’s own.
In a way that’s a success because there are a couple of stories that made me feel a bit dirty after enjoying them. The problem was that I expected to have the conventions of the world around me challenged by the characters in the story. People needed to break free from the confines of polite society, and there wasn’t enough of clear break present in a lot of the stories. A lot of the characters were just varying shades of deplorable. Unfortunately, despite the quality of the book, I had wanted a bit more in this respect. Trangressive fiction shines brightest when that sort of divergence is central to a narrative’s architecture. Otherwise, it just ends up being people trying to upset the squares, which can be a bit tedious after a while. At least in my opinion.
As an anthology, this book scratched an itch. It’s a strain of storytelling that isn’t on most people’s lists, but it has its place. Don’t be fooled either, this stuff is dark. It isn’t for everyone, but for anyone that does enjoy having their limits tested, then this book is for you. The selections within miss the mark occasionally, but not one of them was poor quality. I genuinely enjoyed this book from start to finish, even if it was sometimes a little hard to read them all. Ultimately, a job well done by Outcast Press.