Collision, J.S. Breukelaar (Meerkat Press 978-1-946154-17-0, $16.95, tp, 220pp) March 2019.
You may have encountered a story by J.S. Breukelaar here and there, or even her novels American Monster (2014) or Altheia (2017). Whether her name is familiar or not, her debut collection, Collision: Stories, should be on your “must read” list. Breukelaar, an American living in Sydney, Australia, writes in a clean, incisive style with razor-sharp opening hooks, while blending the literary, the speculative, and the weird. The earliest of the 12 stories was published in 2011 and there are three originals. All are unsettling. If any themes tie them together, it may be that the real and the unreal can and do coexist and that, however dire life may be, there is usually at least a modicum of optimism to be found. Another unifying factor is that the characters are all so normal and knowable while also being completely abnormal and unpredictable.
The book leads off with “Union Falls”, which features an armless piano player and a grief-stricken bar owner who has stayed in a place despite many reasons to leave. “Raining Street” also revolves around a grieving woman, but this one makes a strange journey that, dark as it may be, still ultimately resounds with hope. “The Box” is science fictional and fantastic at the same time and deals with the all-too-human desire to keep love alive and all wounds hidden as long as possible. “Ava Rune” mixes the gothic with a bit of the Nordic. Its culminating supernaturality seems quite natural.
“Lion Man” starts with a bang (or rather a bite) and no one could possibly guess where it ends. “Fairy Tale” brings the past and present together in the forms of a runaway girl and a paraplegic veteran. “Fixed” – like “Lion Man” – includes a memorable portrait of a canine, a dog who is more human than most of the people around him.
“Rogues Bay 3013” takes us to a future where there are very strange angels and people are engineered, but human desire can still be a monstrous thing. “War Wounds” is an indescribable story about two boys who inadvertently and inexplicably make a monster.
Both “Collision” and “Glow” are reactions to the reign of the current US president and his fear of alien invasion. In the former, time and alternate universes literally collide and names have power. “Glow” is closer to chilling satire: a man is elected who campaigns with the slogan “Humanity First” in a world where true aliens have sought refuge.
The concluding novella, “Like Ripples on a Blank Shore”, is both puzzling and compelling. It’s a brilliant piece of work that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, but always with at least an element of exploring one’s identity.
The author provides truly insightful notes at the end of each story and Angela Slatter has penned a no-doubt wonderful introduction that I fear to read, as it might force me to rethink this review.
Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron, Ohio, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.
This review and more like it in the May 2019 issue of Locus.
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