"You Shall Never Know Security" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by West Pigeon Press
Written by J.R. Hamantaschen
2011, 276 pages, Fiction
Released on August 11th, 2011
Recently on his Facebook page, Joe Lansdale posted, "I almost feel sorry for readers who only read one kind of thing, only have one gear, or expect Hollywood endings. Nothing wrong with that if it works, but surprise is nice now and then." While I've always read horror and mystery, I have to admit that before I started reviewing more books for HorrorTalk, I would generally read one type of horror. I can't put my finger on what, exactly, drew me to what I read, but I do know I preferred a particular type of prose. I have never been one for fancy writing or poetry (or poetry-like) readings. Yet that has changed substantially throughout the past few years as more and more books come across my plate for review, and Landsdale's words ring more true as each year goes by.
Not too long ago I was blown away by Lee Thompson's When We Join Jesus in Hell. What fully impressed me was not just Thompson's amazing skill, but the fact that I truly enjoyed a style of writing that I tend to avoid. Normally, I'm a meat a potatoes type of guy and don't have a lot of a time for...I don't know, "pretty" words? But Thompson didn't care about likes, he just said read it and like it, which I did. I'm thinking J.R. Hamantaschen went to the same school as Thompson, because he pulled the same shit on me with his You Shall Never Know Security, a collection of his short stories.
Since I mention my love for anthologies and collections, be it in film or in books, every time I review one, I will continue that tradition here. I love them. They are a wonderful way to get introduced to an author or filmmaker by investing only as much time as you wish. Or, as someone who reads on the train on the way to work, you can knock out a story or two before you get to your destination and not have to wonder all day (or at least until you can get back to your book), "What happened next?!?" So, ideally, when I am being introduced to a new author, I far prefer to read a short story or novella so I don't waste any more time than I have to if I don't like their work. And if I do enjoy their work, as I did with Hamantaschen's collection, you get the bonus of having more to read should you wish.
You Shall Never Know Security is aptly titled. Containing 13 tales, all are beautifully written, most are engrossing and there's a vein of loss running throughout. 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.
Like most — if not all — collections, there are works that stand tall above the others, and You Shall Never Know Security is no exception. There are stories like "Wonder", an intensely brutal tale of revenge that is almost painful to read. Because the story is so short, it does it no justice to go into its plot, but rest assured, if you think that what the teller puts the victim of the story through is tough, the reason behind it all is quite sad and makes you think twice how you treat others.
"There's Always Something in the Misfortune of Our Friends That Doesn't Displease Us" is a delightful tale on finding misery in other people's pain, and what may be the cause of that misfortune. I freely admit that I am one that takes glee in the misfortune of those I don't care for, and I don't apologize for what I consider human nature, but Hamantaschen takes it to another level here. While I won't think twice the next time I smile when I read the bad times on someone's Facebook wall (who the only reason I keep as a "friend" is to relish in their misfortunes), but I will be reminded of this story.
While I'm probably in the minority of males that just doesn't find dick and fart jokes humorous, the scat story "Jordan, When are You Going to Settle Down, Get Married and Have us Some Children?" was both cringeworthy and laughable (as in laugh with, not at). Another one that I won't go into due to its short length, this story has stayed with me the longest because how can be both compelling and disgusting all at once.
By far the weakest story in the book is the last, "There Must be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere". Hamantaschen has a style that is both poetic and free form that works most of the time. It's almost as if he just puts the pen to paper and just rolls with whatever comes out, making each tale a surreal and ethereal experience. But with this last story, it just doesn't work. It feels entirely too disjointed, and you get lost in a soupy mix of words. I tried three times to read it, but each time I just gave up halfway through.
You Shall Never Know Security is one of those books you have to sit down to appreciate. There are fast food books that you can pick up anytime and devour, and there are books like this, where you sit down and take the time to appreciate the words in front of you. It's best not to read the whole book at once, because while I did dig the majority of the tales, reading them continuously is too much. I certainly don't mind dismal endings, but I'd prefer to not have to read 13 in a row. That said, Hamantaschen has a unique style that I bet would make for one hell of a ghost story, one that I would love to read.