"Hi I'm a Social Disease" Book Review
Written by Andersen Prunty
2011, 110 pages, Fiction
Released on July 8th, 2011
Retribution, justice, punishment, and death are some of the elements Andersen Prunty explores in the seven stories that make up Hi I'm a Social Disease, a collection in which the author once again shows that he can take short stories in any direction he desires and still deliver outstanding horror while touching on other genres and playing with readers' expectations.
Instead of offering a synopsis of each story, which is something I did in my review of Prunty's Bury the Children in the Yard, I'll switch things up a bit and discuss only a few stories, but digging a bit deeper into what makes them great.
Hi I'm a Social Disease kicks off with "Room 19", a post-apocalyptic nightmare based on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' song From Her to Eternity. You know those short stories you read and immediately wish there was an entire novel with those same characters and setting despite the fact that the tale is complete and a satisfying read? Well, this is one of those. Prunty has his characters stuck in the microcosm of an old, dilapidated building after the end of the world, and the narrative's atmosphere is as oppressive and bleak as end-of-the-world stories get. However, the surprising thing about this tale about a man who gets what he deserves is that it's the equivalent of opening a bloated carcass with a knife and finding it's full of poetry. Yeah, there's plenty of gore here, but it's delivered in a way that makes it almost beautiful, and that's very rare.
"Market Adjustment," the second story, takes readers to New York in 1929. The market has crashed and mayhem is about to rule the streets, and in the midst of all that is a man looking for revenge. This tale of payback and dark magic is unexpectedly gory and sexual, but the best thing about it is that, although it's set in 1929, the principles behind the protagonist's actions are perfectly transferable to today. From torture and retribution to an underground society and a critique of unscrupulous business practices, this one has something for everyone.
The next standout is 'The Man With the Face Like a Bruise," which deals with a haunted man who finds his partner cheating on him and decides to teach her and her lover a lesson. Part noir and part horror story, this is packed with physical, verbal, and psychological violence. While it feels like a crime tale at times, there's an underlying mental/emotional aspect here that makes this one of the most uncomfortable (read: great) stories in the collection.
The last story I'll delve into is 'The Funeralgoer,' basically because it made me wish for a novel the same way Room 19 did. In this one, a young man has a gift/curse: he can see how people died. His life is tormented enough, but then it gets worse because he starts noticing that some graves are empty. The dead are no longer dead, and he soon finds out who's bringing them back to life and the perverse agenda behind it. The man is forced into a situation where his gift becomes the only thing he does, and that leads to an opportunity. This one is a creepy and very interesting narrative about how revenge is something that can be stronger then death.
A lot of authors try to put everything they've ever written into their short story collections or make the mistake of selecting previously published pieces that don't compare to more recent work in terms of quality. Luckily, Prunty always delivers and the fact that he can put out books with less than ten stories that are superior to most other collections out there is a testament to his writing chops and unique imagination. Give this one a chance and prepare yourself for an exploration of grittiness in all its manifestations.