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Book: “Illusions of Isolation” by Brennan LaFaro
Publishing Info: French Press, March 2023
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher.
Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon
Book Description: Is anyone ever really alone?
When a young man’s wife goes away for the weekend, he lies awake all night wondering what the otherworldly sound in the attic is and why only he can hear it.
After her husband’s death, a mother who interacts with her son exclusively through stationery notes grapples with the strange ways her lost love seems to be haunting them both.
And inch by inch, room by room, a young girl’s home is overtaken by a savage jungle, even while her parents are being gradually replaced by somewhat…wilder housemates.
In this debut collection Brennan LaFaro, the author of NOOSE and SLATTERY FALLS, brings you these stories of creeping dread and much, much more. Contained within are thirteen tales of horror, humor, and heart, (including nine which have never before seen the light of day) and an introduction by the legendary Jonathan Janz.
Is anyone ever really alone? Or are they merely suffering… ILLUSIONS OF ISOLATION
Review: Thank you to French Press for sending me an eCopy of this short stories collection!
One of my favorite things is when a book shows up in my inbox or comes across my path that is unknown, and it catches my eye even though I’m unfamiliar with the author due to the description and hype work done around it. That is really the situation I had with “Illusions of Isolation” by Brennan LaFaro, a collection of horror short stories that were completely new to me. I’m someone who really likes routine and control over many aspects of my life, so taking chances on books, while novel and fun at times, is also a little stressful for me. But reading the description of this book, I knew that I wanted to give it a chance because it just struck me in the right away. And I ended up really enjoying it.
Before we begin, one of the things that I really REALLY loved about this collection is that each story has an author’s note at the end, which provides some context and insight into the story itself. As someone who likes to write for myself on occasion, I always like seeing the process that other authors use when writing their own stories. I found it very enlightening and interesting in this collection, and seeing where LaFaro gets his inspirations and how he crafted these short stories was such a treat. It also provided some good background or thought process information of some of the more disturbing tales (I really liked having it for “Dressed for Success”, the first story in the bunch that has violence within a school setting. It really contextualizes the content so it doesn’t feel exploitative or distasteful). It feels a bit like the author’s notes behind the stories in the “Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark Books” in a way, and I really enjoyed it.
So I’ll tackle this like I do all short stories collections: I will talk about my favorite three stories, and then talk about the collection as a whole.
“Year of the Black Rainbow”: There were a few stories in this collection that used topical issues to help fuel the horror aspects (given that social anxieties influence horror a lot it’s not shock), and “Year of the Black Rainbow” was one of those and my first favorite of the collection. Alex, a non-binary teen whose parents have kicked them out of their home, has found themself alone and living in an unhoused community in an old abandoned hospital. While others have avoided the basement for its strange happenings, Alex has made it their home. But when intruders threaten them, the basement’s reputation comes to the forefront. I love a haunted house story, I love a story about a marginalized person finding a place to call home, and I love a story that has a nice heaping helping of comeuppance for shit heads. And this story has all of that.
“A Shine in the Woods”: Isolation cabin horror is always going to be top notch for me, and if you bring in some really unique elements and I am totally roped in. A family is having a vacation in a winter cabin setting, but something keeps knocking over their garbage cans and making a mess outside. As the snow comes down harder and the unknown threat becomes more pressing, the family starts to wonder if they are going to leave their vacation alive. I’m not going to say any spoilers here, but I LOVED where LaFarro went with this one! I had an idea as to what was maybe going on, but as the tension built and the stakes were raised he went in a completely different direction and I thought that it was so creative and so out there in the best way.
“The Lights”: Break out the tissues for this one folks. A neighborhood nice guy named Gus, known for his kind disposition and his love of the grill, is suddenly rendered catatonic in his backyard chair with a relaxed smile on his face. His wife has kept it secret until neighbors come by concerned, and he only speaks of ‘the lights’. As Gus remains in this entranced state, his wife, and his neighbors, start to realize the impact this quiet but gentle man had on their lives. This one is probably the least horror-esque story in the collection and a bit more Sci-Fi, but I thought that it was so lovely and a glimpse into the way loved ones impact our lives. It’s a bit ambiguous, but the ending is filled with so much genuine, bittersweet pathos that it brought tears to my eyes.
And truly, I thought that all of the stories in this book were pretty well crafted and well imagined. None of them felt like clunkers to me, and I thought that LaFaro really explored a lot of different sub genres and did them justice for the most part. There was definitely something to like about all these stories, and again, the author’s note for EACH story was so, so awesome. The tone could shift from splatter punk brutality to bittersweet pathos and the shift isn’t jarring or distracting. It’s just nice seeing different themes and tonality flowing well in an anthology, especially when there is such a dichotomy and it’s from a single author.
There is definitely something for everyone in “Illusions of Isolation”. I am going to be keeping an eye on Brennan LaFaro going forward, because this collection is filled with lots of goodies.
Rating 8: A well rounded and very strong collection of horror stories that span a number of sub genres and aesthetics, “Illusions of Isolation” really ought to be on any horror aficionado’s radar!
“Illusions of Isolation” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on the list “Short Horror/SciFi Collections”.