Review: Unpleasant Tales

By Lyndsey Holder

Connell, Brendan. Unpleasant Tales. LaVergne (TN): Eibonvale Press (July 19, 2010). USD $13.50. ISBN: 978-0956214737.

The title “Unpleasant Tales” isn’t entirely accurate. I would argue that the stories within are more uncomfortable than unpleasant, as they cause the reader to look at disturbing things through a lens of gorgeous prose, resulting in a discomforting contrast. Brendan Connell has taken the geometry of storytelling and thrown it off, ever-so-slightly, causing a sense of unease that defies simple explanation.

Nothing makes horror so horrific as when it is mixed with equal parts of beauty and goodness. When we can write terrible acts off as the works of a madman, we can go to bed and sleep soundly, wrapped in the comforting notion that we have left all of the bad people outside. When we are forced to feel unwanted empathy for the perpetrators of cruelty, however, sleep comes much less easily. We cannot escape the disturbing notion that evil is not just the territory of others, but a path that we ourselves could easily tread, and the line which divides us from them is very thin indeed.

Unpleasant Tales reminds us of the delicate nature of that line. Perhaps the characters within these pages start out slightly more unhinged, slightly less balanced, but the true terror in these stories lies in the inescapable fact that they really aren’t so different from us.

I really enjoy Brendan Connell’s work and I would say that he is the new master of his genre, but I’m not really sure who the old one was. In fact, I’m not really quite certain what I would classify his genre as.

The only author that comes to mind when I think of Connell’s style is the manga artist/author Junji Ito. The effect their work has on me is the same. I will read it voraciously, hungrily, and afterwards, it will fill me with a sense of disquiet. I will be plagued with the memory of the more disturbing aspects and I will wonder why I read it at all. In a week or so, the uneasiness vanishes and I instantly want to read more.

However, there is a poetry in Connell’s work that is missing in Ito’s. It’s not just that he ensures we notice the humanity of the people who commit the unspeakable atrocities in his writing, but that he writes with love and care about awful things. The juxtaposition of the beauty of his prose with the disturbing nature of his subject matter makes it all the more terrifying.

Connell is the Hieronymous Bosch of the written word; his style is so beautiful and real that it makes the grotesque subject matter seem even more horrifying.

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