Comma Press bring us a new collection of horror with ‘The New Abject’ and being such a fan and supporter of their first outing ‘The New Uncanny’ I for one couldn’t wait to get tucked into this offering. They have a few writers returning to the fold and have also added some stunning writers to the mix. Let’s see how I got on shall we?
Stool – Bernardine Bishop
I enjoyed the who done it element, the internal struggle but it appeared to just get going as the story finished.
Teeth and Hair – Christine Poulson
Nell – is an au pair, looking after Polly (11 year old) as Polly’s father (Matthew) works away, and Polly’s mother had died recently. Nell begins to investigate the house. Polly showing her a locked room that contained her mother’s possessions… things begin to get eerie as items from the room start to appear around the house and creeping and brooding unease sets in.
The Universal Stain Remover – Gaia Holmes
‘Most of my stains were his doing and they are heavy stains that curved my spine, pushed me down to the level of the low with worms and things that crawl on their belly. They are stains that flattened me, crushed me, turned me into a slanting italic version of myself. Stains of humiliation. Stains he made with words.’
An absolutely stunning story of a house sitter… sounds quite dull right? This is anything but. A masterful, heart-wrenching , soul destroying brilliance. Our main protagonist is cleaning stains in houses and we realise that the darkest stain of all is her past and what he’d turned her into. An unflinching look at emotional domestic abuse.
( ) ( ( – Lara Williams
Our main protagonist is a hoarder, but she hoards her body’s sheddings (eyebrow hairs, eyelashes, nail clippings that sort of stuff) but her cravings to rid herself of these things progresses and when her secret is discovered it reveals horrors one doesn’t expect.
The Reservoir – Meave Haughey
Meredith is concerned about the reservoir near their home, worried of the floods, worried of being a parent to the second child she’s carrying – worried of the waters that will pour from her and the failing reservoir.
The Leftovers – Margaret Drabble
A landlord returns to her property during the start of the pandemic, her thoughts plagued by the past tenants, how they’d looked after her house, the things they broke, the things they bought and she’s plagued by the things they left.
An Enfleshment of Desire by Saleem Haddad
Protests, sex obsession and carnal desires – an interesting concept but I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the others.
Bind – Matthew Holness
Our protagonist is stuck in an endless loop of an exhibition, and exhibition that’s items are pieces of his life, items of importance – the delicate balance of grief, loss and hopelessness are very well executed, but I feel the fundamental message of this story was lost on me slightly.
Rejoice – Sarah Schofield
A grieving mother and daughter struggle with the passing of her husband and daughters father, a backdrop of Covid and questions of adequate PPE, the fingerprints of a life, the comfort one girl finds in something out of place – an eerie story that I thought would go one way but went in a completely different direction.
It’s a Dinosauromorph, Dumdum – Adam Marek
Told in Marek’s wonderfully striking and engaging prose. Here we get a huge slice of unsettling science fiction, where a couple head to a friends house, where on arrival they are told to wear Augmented Reality glasses on entering their home. Something isn’t right, but we can’t help but wonder what, until Marek reveals to us the true extent of this make believe world – a world of smoke and mirrors.
Misisedwuds – Karen Featherstone
A mother struggles with the attachment to her child and her monotonous life, desperate to change the things she can and live with the rest – but she’ll try to break free from the chains that bind any way she can.
The Honey Gatherers – Gerard Woodward
A husband and wife run and Apiary – they’re doing well, selling their produce and making money. Their honey based products are a real hit, you see their bees are able to collect the nectar from rare flowers that bloom near their site. But someone’s moving in on their property and setting up a competing Apiary – which is causing their own livelihood to fall into question, so what will they do about it?
Adobo – Paul Theroux
A retired man in Hawaii decides to get himself a wife, his friend hooks him up with a Filipino woman, a farmers daughter. Their married life starts well, it’s the companionship he’s sought for a long time, but things turn sour when she wants to kill the wild pigs that frequent his front garden, the pigs that he’s grown to love, she wants to cook him ‘Adobo’ a delicacy from where she’s from. When he submits to her requests he suddenly realises that things have escalated and can’t return to the way they were however much he wishes they could.
On Monkeys Without Tails – Mike Nelson
A man who collects old objects for his shop sits at an antique desk and reminisces about its past owners. He reflects on how the past and its objects are made redundant for future advancement.
The Room Peels by Alan Beard
A recently divorced man moves into a cramped bedsit, where his life seems to slide away from him. Haunted by the memories of visits from friends and lovers and others that have crossed his sorry existence, they seem to have left a stain that lasts. He finds himself hearing their impressions, feeling their presence years after as his room slowly becomes his tomb as he begins to fear the outside world, and craves the safety and security of his shitty little bedsit – here he’s safe, but for how long.
O Death – Mark Haddon
Our protagonist returns home to pick up their father who’d fallen down the stairs. They soon discover more about the house and family they’d tried so desperately to get away from. Being back there with a father who has dementia, a mother who still treats them as a twelve-year-old and a brother who’s still living at home causes old pains to surface. Proving that going home is sometimes the nightmare you know it’s going to be, but like a dog returning to its vomit, we continue to do it out of some innate reason.
Wretched – Lucie McKnight Hardy
McKnight Hardy rips up the form book here, delivering a breathtaking slice of science fiction / horror. This story is one of creeping unease, blending perfectly thematic elements from 1984 / Handmaids / Clockwork Orange to craft a very atmospheric piece and one that leaves its mark on the reader. One can’t help but see the parallels of our current plight with regards to Covid (although this is not stated) it’s rather inferred knowledge but makes for a strong and atmospheric piece and shows a possible future that’s dark and disturbing. And again showcases perfectly why I adore McKnight Hardy’s words!
Out of the Blue – David Constantine
‘We’re not made to withstand what we do to one another.’
A stunning story, Constantine delivers a masterful story that unravels slowly into the most elegant and sorrowful tale in the collection. This story focuses on adultery, shame, love and striving for completeness. After an act of God our main protagonists life is thrown into the unknown. She soon answers a call that she wasn’t expecting, which blows her tiny world wide open. This shows how worlds collide and the serendipity that surrounds us all and how people can sometimes collide together, creating beauty from the ashes of human emotions.
Extending the Family – Ramsey Campbell
Ramsey Campbell brings this unsettling collection to a close with a story reminiscent of Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’. An elderly man becomes infatuated with a father, son and baby that live in the run down property opposite his window, his voyeurism isn’t taken kindly to this ghastly family, where our protagonist is privy to many failings, abuse, drug use, antisocial behaviour. He’s determined to get to the bottom of this, help if he can or set something in motion that will cause an end to this situation. Such a fabulous story, which has a sting in the tail!
A fabulous collection again from Comma Press, I felt though that a few of these offerings drifted from the brief (which is set out in the detailed introduction) it’s not as clear cut as their first collection ‘The New Uncanny’ where each story is unsettling and devastating, but ‘The New Abject’ does deliver in many of the stories, just not all of them.
This is a fabulous collection though and with some very masterful offerings included. My favourites from the collection were the work of Ramsey Campbell, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Gaia Holmes and David Constantine.
Gaia Holmes’s ‘The Universal Stain Remover’ should be winning awards later in the year for its brilliance and it has worked its way into my top short stories ever (so much so I even emailed the author to tell her how brilliant it was).
The New Abject is published by Comma Press and is available here.
Featuring Alan Beard, Bernardine Bishop, Ramsey Campbell, David Constantine, Margaret Drabble, Karen Featherstone, Saleem Haddad, Mark Haddon, Meave Haughey, Gaia Holmes, Matthew Holness, Adam Marek, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Mike Nelson, Christine Poulson, Sarah Schofield, Paul Theroux, Lara Williams & Gerard Woodward
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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