By Bob Franklin
Synopsis: Dip into the world of
Bob Franklin‘s fiction at your own risk. The calm surface belies a swift
undertow and snags galore. These are not horror stories in the
traditional sense; they are more unsettling than that.
Under Stones are uneasy tales, set in familiar surrounds. They are
journeys into the human psyche and powerful critiques of contemporary
Australian society. Bob Franklin pokes and prods at human fears and
foibles, revealing with forensic glee truths that you might prefer were,
well, left under stones.
Bob Franklin is a Welsh comedian who has been based over here in Australia since the late 1980s. I've never seen his stand-up but I've long been a fan of his work on the Shaun Micallef show (if you've never seen it, seriously, look it up. Quality off-beat humour) and have always enjoyed when he popped up in other TV shows and films. Under Stones is his first attempt at writing fiction (at least first published attempt) and what he delivers is an odd collection of short stories sure to leave you feel a little...off.
The synopsis really does a great job of summarising these stories, they're not horror in the sense that vampires, zombies or men with chainsaws chase down unsuspecting men and women. Instead they look at real world horrors that people face...with a twist. While the crux of a story may be the ravaging effects of consumerism, or the crippling fear a beaten wife feels it tackles these stories by introducing a mild supernatural element to emphasise it. Most of the stories are written in a way that suggests that the supernatural manifestation may simply be a psychological effect of the character's break-down but others are driven by the supernatural element but contain a real life concern as well.
The length of the stories really vary. Some are quite long, at around 25 pages, while some are a mere page and a half. Personally I find this method extremely effective. I'm not a huge reader of short stories and I find that the variety this provides kept my interest for longer than it perhaps would have been if they were all longer or all shorter. After reading a particularly long and grueling story, it was nice to have a couple of teeny stories that whacked a punch of absurd horror and refreshed my 'palate' after the previous read.
A common complaint I've had with short story collections is that the quality can fluctuate a fair bit. I'd say this is probably true with this book. Some stories were really great but some just felt lacking. If I had to summarise my complaints for this book it'd be a lack of editing. Not in the sense that there were a lot of spelling or grammar errors but that I felt like a few more sessions rewriting could have tightened up some of the prose and perhaps developed a couple of the stories a little better. I mentioned that I enjoyed the variety in story lengths, and while I did for the most part I also felt like some of the short stories were thrown in to add content at the last minute. The writing style was very 'literary' and at some points it felt like reading the prose of a third year creative writing student. Which isn't to criticise either the author or student writers but to try and give you an idea of what I mean. From the young writing I've read in our uni magazines I feel like sometimes a student puts pen to paper, writes what's haunting their head and then, once finished, leaves it. I feel like if another few months was put into this book it could have been phenomenal because the way Franklin writes, when done to his full potential, is quite haunting and his stories lend an interesting eye to areas that concern most people at some time or another.
So I thought I'd list a couple of my favourite stories:
Plans - In a town of perfectly coiffed men and women, home made jams and clean streets a young misfit computer virus creator (does that make her a hacker?) sets the wheels in motion to take down the centre of the town's organisation team. (12 pages)
Traitors Bay - A battered wife retreats to a small town with her husband and son after an indiscretion by her husband puts them at risk. She starts to see enemies on every corner. A really interesting and psychologically driven story. (26 pages)
Take the Free Tour - A less than desirable journalist decides to take the 'free tour' of a porn site and begins to obsess over the naughty site until things take a twist for the worse. A kooky and bizarre look at porn addiction. (32 pages)
Children's Story - Told from the perspective of a five year old this story looks at a holiday taken by his family and some family friends. Turns gruesome, but stupendously done. (5 pages)
Hell Hath No Fury - A husband and wife quarrel over whether or not they should have kids. The wife takes revenge. Wacky-that's truly the best word I can think to describe it! My favourite short, short story. (2 pages)
The Snow Globe - Lee was always second best. His brother was clearly his parent's favourite and far exceeded Lee's more modest career and life but not he's dead from a tumour in his brain. Lee takes up residence in his brother's house but on his way there he keeps seeing something out of the corner of his eye. (14 pages)
The Rock Lobster Club - Joel wants to be one of the rich and famous. When he met Beth he thought he'd found his way there. The best twist ending, absolutely hilarious! (9 pages)
So as the synopsis says, this isn't your typical horror story. Many of the stories seem bizarre, funny or even absurd, and some have extremely ambiguous endings. This isn't the sort of book that smacks you in the face with it's content, instead it sneaks in under the guise of humour or familiarity and only then starts to let the horror sink in. At it's best it's a scathing and poetic view of our world and society, and at it's worst it falls short of being anything other than strange. Not always the most engaging, but an interesting read nonetheless.
My rating: 3.5/5