"A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Written by J.R. Hamantaschen
2018, 356 pages, Fiction
Released on July 20th, 2018
I don’t like happy endings.
Naturally, that’s not a global statement. I think they are fine in certain situations (like massage), but on the whole, I prefer realistic outcomes to the endings of the books I read or the movies and TV shows I watch. Especially when it comes to the horror and crime genres. The reality is, the hero doesn’t always survive, much less get the girl, and the story that isn’t afraid to take chances and go dark is usually better for it (Psycho). One of the reasons I gave up on The Walking Dead is because the writers are too weak to kill off anyone of importance. I can tell you the exact moment I never looked back: When Glenn escaped the zombies by crawling under a dumpster. Don’t try to defend that writing. It’s garbage at best.
The reason I start with this is because I recently finished J.R. Hamantaschen’s latest collection of stories, A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe, and like his first collection, You Shall Never Know Security, Hamantaschen doesn’t care much for a sunny finale. His stories often end bleak, dark, and realistic.
In my review for You Shall Never Know Security, I said, “Overall, the book is depressing but still compelling as hell because of Hamantaschen's skill with words. As supernatural as the stories can get, there's still a semblance of "real life" found in each as sometimes there are just no happy endings. Sometimes the real world just sucks.” That motif continues here, and the results are just as impressive.
Of the 11 stories found in this collection, my favorite has to be “Faithfully and Lovingly”. This choice surprises even me because the main character, Brian, is so unlikeable. Incel-like and insecure, the story follows him as he tries to maintain the relationship with his girlfriend. He’s really a despicable character from beginning to end, and he becomes even worse after the story’s turn midway through. I don’t know why I liked it so much, especially with Brian being such a massive dick, but I do believe it has something to do with Hamantaschen’s statement (be it intentional or unintentional) of the sense of entitlement these pathetic incel losers have. I really wanted all the bad to happened to Brian. Read for yourself to see what happens. Seriously, though. Fuck Brian and people like him.
“7099 Brecksville Road, Independence, Ohio” is another one I really dig. It’s more or less a quick little jaunt into a men’s room at a gas station. Hamantaschen skillfully builds up the story into a frenzied finale that is both disgusting and hilarious all at once. This one is ripe for a full-length book or movie and I can see myself going back to it for a laugh.
“That’s Just the Way Things are These Days” isn’t necessarily one of my favorites in the book, but I have to mention it if only for the exceptional way Hamantaschen addresses not just losing your virginity, but the pressure to do it. If I were smarter, I’d also say it’s a bit of a statement on sex in today’s world and how important mutual consent is given. I may very well be looking way too much into it, though (although I don’t think I am). The short of the story is a couple of kids do the dirty for the first time with some rather interesting results. There is no happy ending here, folks. Pun intended.
One thing Hamantaschen does with (mostly) successful results is letting the reader fill in the blanks. He doesn’t seem to be much of a fan of spoon feeding his audience all of the details, and in the case of “Bleecker and Bleaker; or, Gay for Muesli”, it works. The story follows Ken as he forms a friendship with Kaz, the barista at the coffee shop he frequents. Eventually, it comes to light that Kaz has an interesting past and family, and soon enough things catch up to him. This isn’t a horror story in a collection filled with them, but it is dark enough to count, and sad as well. (And I’m intentionally being vague on what happens, as these are short stories, after all. No need for me to ruin them for you.)
Where the author’s passion for keeping things somewhat vague at times doesn’t work is “I’ve Read with Some Interest About…” The story follows Jen as she tries to figure out where those infernal noises are coming from in her apartment, until it’s made clear what is making those noises, and it’s terrifying to say the least. However, the story ends with virtually no explanation. Look, I’m not the kind of person who needs every answer. I’m perfectly content not knowing more times than not – I’m in the minority of loving the ending of Brian Keene’s first novel, The Rising, so you know where I’m coming from if you’ve read that. But here, that doesn’t work. I feel cheated because I was so completely invested in the story. This particular tale is unique, as it’s both one of my favorites and one of the most disappointing in the book. A good comparison is High Tension. The ending hurts an otherwise amazing journey.
I refuse to end this review on a negative note because A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe doesn’t deserve it. The majority of collections and anthologies are going to have a story or two that isn’t up to par with the rest, and the reality is even though I didn’t like the ending, “I’ve Read with Some Interest About…” still succeeds. That said, a final standout in the book is “I Will Soon be Home and Never Need Anyone Ever Again”, which is similar to “Faithfully and Lovingly” in that the main character, Thomas, isn’t all that likable and is another entitled jerk. The difference here, however, is he’s just a kid that is too smart for his own good; calling him socially awkward would be like calling Dawn of the Dead an okay sequel. Thomas is bullied (naturally) and eventually finds a friend who makes his life somewhat better. Of course there’s something more to this guy (I mean, c’mon, they randomly meet in the woods), and Thomas’ new pal’s powers are revealed. This is another prime example of Hamantaschen’s skills as a writer. Thomas is not likable. You can empathize with him, but you don’t want to necessarily root for him. And yet, part of you does, even if you don’t like it.
A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe is J.R. Hamantaschen’s third collection and, according to the intro, may be his last (at least for now) while he works on longer prose. Its 11 stories bring out a range of emotions from sadness to laughter and anger to glee. If you’ve never read anything by Hamantaschen, this is a great place to get introduced to his work before you’ll want to buy what comes from him next.