An author that I’ve read a lot of previously in horror anthologies, Israel Finn, releases his very first short story collection and boy was the wait worth it. This collection is truly masterful. I loved everything about this collection.
Finn has collated twelve stories that will entertain you, shock you, beat you down and then pick you back up by the scruff of your shirt, only so it can knock you down again. Once you’ve finished this collection, you know you’ve read something that is special, it left me a little punch-drunk if I’m honest and the short story Stones – is up there in my top twenty short stories of all time, and like cream it’s rising to the surface the more I think about it, but we’ll touch on that later.
Dreaming at the Top of my Lungs is a stonking read, it’s a gritty book where Finn doesn’t skirt around the edges, he plunges us straight into the darkness time-and-time again, he waterboards us, bringing us face-to-face with darkness, fear and depravity.
What I think makes a storyteller a great storyteller is when they take the reader (if they’re willing or not) where they don’t want to go, where they wouldn’t dream of venturing, but once there, they end up appreciating the ride and its final destination. And that is what Finn does, again and again, with urgent, unflinching and unabashed prose, Finn drags us into the darkness where we discover the monsters under the bed as well as the monsters of men and women.
So on with the review…
Stranded – A grueling re-imagining of Groundhog Day, if Groundhog Day was a ghostly apparition. We have a repetition of events that is so tedious, so all consuming that it becomes somewhat torturous. Our protagonist doesn’t have enough time to do anything before the world resets and he’s back to square one – just be careful what you wish for!
No Such Thing As Monsters – Childhood monsters and what lurks in the closet are mirrored here perfectly with the real life monsters of a son’s father, and the horrors are unimaginable. The childhood imaginary monsters blend perfectly with the real life monsters in a truly dark and sinister offering. What goes bump in the night? A great many things… so be vigilant.
Over my Dead Body – This story was a full on panic attack of a story. With creeping dread and a sense of unease revealed on every page made this uncomfortable reading for me; because it was uncomfortable for our protagonist, which showcases some stunning writing on Israel Finn’s part. Over my Dead Body was almost a dream within a dream (to quote Poe), if that dream was a nightmare. A man fleeing a car accident discovers that the world he once knew is no longer the same, things have altered slightly and his personal nightmares and fears lurk become a new reality and around every corner anguish drips from each sorry face he sees.
Sick Day – I had no idea where this story was going before it was too late. A beautifully weird piece of fiction that was wonderfully written – the thing I have loved about these stories is Finn’s ability to write mesmerisingly flawed character, and this is no exception – Sick Day contains some gruesome goodness that I particularly enjoyed!
The Messenger – This was a cracking story, which had a very dystopian feel, think handmaids – I also liked the little nod to stoning someone for their crimes. In this story it is a crime to speak the truth or write about it, where people’s hideous lives are not discussed as vengeance is carried out on those that do. It could also be seen as a social commentary piece, how freedom of speech is being torn away, where speaking truth often offends people, and so Finn has created a town in a not too distant future that it is against the law to do so. It also for me as a writer, could make a sharp nod to censorship… a really strong piece.
Deadfall Lane – A familial story that reads like a waking nightmare as a father fights to keep his son, his most cherished thing in the world, he’d die for him and he’s not going to let his wife take him away, not ever. This story read like it could have been written by Edgar Allan Poe such is the haunting menace, gut punching brilliance on show. A story that is as haunting as it is terrifying.
Water and War – I enjoyed this story of tough choices between a man and a visiting alien, it’s much more dialogue led than the other stories and I enjoyed the voices of both protagonists and it is a very topical piece in shedding light on who the true monsters are and what devastation they cause.
Stones – Such a cleverly woven story, you’re thinking one thing and then Finn shakes the ground beneath your feet. This is a truly spellbinding read that tackles homophobia in a dystopian hinterland – fabulously written and one of my favourite in the collection, pure magic! The subtle elements that Finn weaves into his prose, that pull you in to sit at the table, that have you engaged from the very outset of this story are masterfully placed. Finn makes you feel comfortable with what you’re reading and expect you’re reading before he pulls the rug out from under your feet and which made my mouth drop open in wonderment at his brilliance. Was reminiscent of the brilliance of both Margaret Atwood and Richard Matheson.
‘It occurred to me (not for the first time) that the past is always reaching out to drag us relentlessly back, like a black hole from which even light cannot escape.’
Deathbed – A deathbed confessional that packs a gut punch, familial hurt coming to the surface like a bloodletting but this is more an unburdening of unnecessary guilt, shame and emotion abuse. A very striking story.
To Catch a Fly – What makes a monster? Nature vs nurture? We find out in this story in unflinching and unforgiving prose. Hard hitting and a protagonist I absolutely loved reading.
The Present – Told in diary format which is hard to read at times given the subject matter of domestic abuse. But as mentioned above Finn does not shy away from evocatively portraying this pain and suffering. We follow our protagonist as she is beaten regularly and we also see that her daughter is also subjected to this physical abuse by this beast of a man she calls a dad. One day as Christmas approaches the mother decides to get her husband a gift he’ll never forget. This is weird fiction at its finest and had me reminiscing about Philip K Dick’s Ubik in places.
Ugly – A delicate tale to end the collection that brings new meaning to the old phrase, ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ – this was a short and somewhat uncanny story but I also found it quite heartwarming!
Dreaming at the Top of my Lungs had me screaming at the top of my lungs with appreciation for how fine a storyteller Israel Finn is. I can’t say much else, other than this is a masterful collection that you need to read. A particular highlight for me was Stones – which in my opinion to discover that story and that story alone, is worth the price of this collection.
Dreaming at the Top of my Lungs
is available here
Israel Finn is a horror, dark fantasy, and speculative fiction writer, and a winner of the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition.
He’s had a life-long love affair with books, and was weaned on authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells. Books were always strewn everywhere about the big white house in the Midwest where he grew up.
Later, he discovered Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, F. Paul Wilson, Dan Simmons, Ramsey Campbell, and Stephen King, as well as several others, and the die was indelibly cast.
Israel now lives in southern California.
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