Review: You Shall Never Know Security

By Martha Hubbard

Hamantaschen, J.R. You Shall Never Know Security. West Pigeon Press, 2011.

According to the end notes, J.R. Hamantaschen is a 27-year-old, part-time fiction writer, resident in New York City. This seems to be his first published collection, but a number of the stories have appeared in a selection of magazines and journals. They are all professionally written; the language, in places, is evocative, almost elegiac.

There is a distinct urban – New York, San Francisco, or Austin – middle-class sensibility to these stories – like Woody Allen without the jokes. There is precious little humour between the covers of this book. Most of the protagonists suffer dysfunctional relationships with parental – usually mother – figures; the men are hopeless with women and unable to create sustainable friendships in general. A key theme is clearly ‘the war between the sexes’, aided and abetted by a motley chorus of inhuman and outlandish beings.

The stories are so varied in type and emphasis that it is difficult to describe them in a single line or two. Some seem to have no point to make except to deliver a grim story; others, generally the longer ones, present more-fully-realised characters that engage our attention. My two favourites were “A Parasite Inside Your Brain”, where I felt real sympathy for the over-controlled young woman, and “There Must be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere”. The latter was the last story in the collection and, for me, the most successful. The unexpected element is the massacre, but it’s long-term effects on the survivors make the characters more-fully-rounded and interesting.

Stories:

1. “A Lower Power”  – In vivid language, an inexperienced woman describes her compelling and dangerous relationship with a beautiful, possibly-not-human, young man.
2. “Wonder” – A chance one-time encounter with a strange man sets off a train wreck of misery.
3. “Endemic” – In a meditation on society’s reactions to beauty and power, a group of social scientists create unique beautiful robot women to lure, trap and punish rapists. Are they not, themselves, enticed by their creations?
4. “A Parasite Inside Your Brain” – A young woman is abused and controlled by almost everyone and everything in her life. The true villains are not always whom we think.
5. “Come in Distraction” – A lonely, homesick ‘Britisher’, escaping from a plague in England, picks up American girls in bars for what seems like no good reason.
6. “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction” – This is another story where the ‘victim’ loses to the super rationality of those in charge. A biased judge denies an insanity petition.
7. “Sorrow Has Its Natural End” – A recently blinded man, bitter and resentful of his overbearing mother, meets his doppelganger, with unfortunate consequences for the new friend.
8. “Jordan, When Are You Going to Settle Down, Get Married and Have Us Some Children?” – Here, an obsessive man has a peculiar ‘shitting’ problem, which effectively thwarts his parents’ wishes.
9. “There Is a Family of Gnomes Behind my Walls and I Swear I Won’t Disappoint Them Any Longer” – With a title almost longer than the story, a lonely, dysphoric young man accepts an invitation to share a loft with his rational, solid, stable friend, only to discover that all is not what it seems.
10. “College” – A law student is invited to participate in a bizarre experiment – a polemic masquerading as a story. For me, this was the least successful of the collection.
11. “Something in the Misfortune of Friends” – An alien ‘something’ takes over the bodies and personae of guests at a wedding, delighting in their misfortunes and killing a few in the process.
12. “Nothing” – Narrator has a lengthy and unsatisfying conversation about his brain. The depressive period ends and he goes back to work. This is another story that seems pointless in its lack of actual event.
13. “There Must be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere” – Three people – Alex, Gabriel and Victoria – are hiding in the closet of a bar. Outside, a massacre is taking place. The two men survive, but suffer life-long guilt.

In all of the above, the author delivers powerful, ugly images, using a battery of verbal pyrotechnics that make the stories demand to be read carefully. Buried in the razzle-dazzle language are clues to the intended meaning. If horror is your poison of choice, these will definitely fill the bill.

You can buy You Shall Never Know Security from Amazon.com.