With a Voice that is Often Still Confused But is Becoming Ever Louder and Clearer by J.R. Hamantaschen is a bit of a mouthful of a title and I was expecting big things from this book which is probably an unfair way of approaching it. I’ve seen lots of positive things about With A Voice from friends and also from his first short story anthology You Shall Never Know Security.
My favourite story with a quite apt title was Soon Enough This Will Essentially Be a True Story about a goodreads reviewer who receives a free book from a local author, the author starts hounding for a review and things are turning nasty but I wasn’t prepared for this nasty. A bestseller beckons but in bloody unlikely and brutal circumstances, after reading this you’ll think twice before leaving a negative review, I guarantee it.
Another favourite was I’m A Good Person, I Mean Well and I Deserve Better, starting off with a pretty normal date between Robin and Bryce at the good old Deer and Fox, rudely interrupted by Bryce overcome with desperation for a trip to the white house to drop some visitors in. Embarrassment doesn’t cover it and the clocks ticking, how long will she wait, gotta get off, help. No need to worry though, well, tell a lie, there’s every need to worry at what’s going down in the dining area. It’s all gone mental, there’s a strange bloke who’s controlling all kinds of monsters and ripping people to shreds, monsters are referred to as minions but these ain’t little yellow funny fuckers. These are demons but before and after the carnage is some consuming emotional shenanigans and a little toilet humour. I did enjoy this with the violently weirdish interlude that certainly changes tact.
‘He wanted an adjustment to his face, something to scare the shit out of people right before he killed them — wanted his mouth to spread out like the wings of a manta ray, little suckers and teeth embedded into his checks. But he couldn’t will that, for some reason.’
I found With A Voice to be a bit of a mixed bag, for the most part the stories started off walking down Normal Avenue with intriguing characterisation, well written and sometimes delightful prose that deserves to be fully appreciated and absorbed. You’re just getting used to what’s occurring and thinking where it’s going because there’s considerable time spent on the setup when quite suddenly we turn off Normal Avenue and abruptly head down Weirdfuckingville Alley. Which is not a negative slant it’s just something different to wrap your head around.
Now it’s a good job there’s an easy to use dictionary on kindle because I’d swear J.R. Hamantaschen is making sweet, sweet love to and then battering his thesaurus with his third leg because at times it was like showing off with I know some big words that you’ll never understand kinda writing. Call me thick if you like but if you immediately know without looking what this lot means then congratulations you need a fucking life platitudinous, meretricious, Cognitive dissonance, solipsistic, stentorian, didactic tone and finally, enunciation inchoate. Joking aside do you ignore or interrupt the flow, I interrupted and just thought, why man?
So on the whole we’ve got some seriously weird, dark fiction that even now I’m still in two minds about, I can appreciate it but I don’t think I’ll ever truly love it. There’s certainly brilliance here, a touch different maybe, the more I think back the more I like it, it just takes some assimilating and some smaller titles would be good.
Words by Paul Nelson, @pgnelson72