Crowded House & Other Stories is a small collection of short stories by S.J. Budd and published by Demain Publishing as part of their Short Sharp Shocks! series and boy is it good!
This is the first time I’ve read S.J. Budd and I can tell you it most certainly wont be the last. Budd is a writer with some serious talent, each of these stories (three in total) are laced with a delicate style of storytelling, each one dripping with eeriness and something of the uncanny. They seem to almost be stories you know, people you may have encountered, each one striking like an axe to the head. It’s horror, but a subtle kind of horror that seeps into your flesh, burrows deep and disturbs your innermost feelings, stirring your fears into a troublesome mix that you have to choke down our spit back up.
Demain Publishing are doing some great work at giving a voice to the Indie writer and their Short Sharp Shocks! series is a fabulous way for lovers of the horror genre to find new writers and hidden treasures along the way, the future is bright, the future is Indie Publishing and this is how it should be done!
Budd opens her stylised collection with the beautifully woven piece ‘Until I Go’ which centres around a female protagonist who is going to visit her sick mother in hospital – but all is not what it seems. Selina is a child of an over baring mother, a childhood of abuse, neglect and destruction – but somehow she’s survived, she is a survivor. Selina is called back to see her mother one last time, unsure of the diagnosis but we know it’s not looking too good, she enters the hospital to locate this monster of her past. What I loved about this story is the way Budd delves into grief and trauma – how in some cases (the stairwell scene) we see a visual representation of compartmentalising as Selina tries to escape but is brought back to the same room time and time again. There is no escape, the rooms she has locked her mother in in her mind need to be opened but is she brave enough to face the final test. Its creepy, laced with fear and a real stunner of an opening story!
‘The woman on the bed was once her mother, but now it is not. A disease has taken over. That’s all we ever are, vessels to be overtaken by dark forces dragging us back down.
Life is but a brief respite from the darkness that surrounds us.
‘Crowded House’ the title story of the collection is more experimental horror, in the way that Budd enables the reader to form their own conclusions to the story and the traffic of her prose. It’s undeniably brilliant and her sense of place and the construction of the house she finds herself in is masterful – I enjoyed the slow brooding menace that seems to contaminate the very air of the story and as she ventures further in to this house the horrors become tangible and inescapable. She succumbs to the external factors playing out within the story and becomes part of the furniture. The story did remind me of Jason Arnopp’s ‘American Hoarder’ but it’s also very much it’s own little atrocity – I enjoyed this story a lot and showcases another voice of Budd one that is in line with weird fiction – and for me that is always a winner!
‘A Bubble Of Friendship Will Keep Us‘ this story had me thinking of Lucie McKnight Hardy (in both her short fiction and longer form work) by the way in which Budd is able to shield the reader from what is coming, but placing throughout the story small hints at the impending chaos that is about to tumble down into the story. It’s a huge compliment to Budd as McKnight Hardy is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. In this story Budd has us in the palm of her hand as she delicately delivers us into a childhood relationship and masterfully pulls us through the turmoil of this friendship breaking down when a new girl arrives in the neighbourhood. Our main protagonist is determined to ensure that her friend will remain by her side whatever the cost. There are elements of folklore in this one too, subtle done but I enjoyed that little nod which also aids in heightening the stories conclusion. Another sterling offering from Budd and one that packs a punch!
A fabulous introduction into an author who is going places, this collection ensures that Budd’s name is placed on the map of horror writing and I look forward to the possibility of more work from her in the future and maybe something a bit longer – these are so good I can’t help but imagine what a novel would be like!
Crowded House & Other Stories is published by Demain Publishing and is available here.
S.J.Budd is a dark fiction author and HWA member from Cornwall. Her work has appeared in The No Sleep Podcast, Aphotic Realm, Sanitarium Magazine, Siren’s Call Publications, Deadman’s Tome, Innersins, Aphelion, Bewildering Stories, Blood Moon Rising Magazine, Shadows at the Door and Danse Macabre Magazine, The Wild Hunt, Morpheus Tales and Freedom Fiction.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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