“Spectrum” by Aidan J. Reid
I received a free copy of the ebook in exchange for my honest review. This review or a version of it is also posted on Amazon & Goodreads.
“Spectrum” is a quick and somewhat frightening read, an epistolary short story told entirely through a series of journal entries written by the protagonist to describe her experience while participating in a pharmaceutical study followed by a corporate medical report analyzing the results of the study.
Although I enjoyed “Spectrum”, there are a couple of things I take issue with. I think the main idea of the story, that Big Pharma is dangerous, perhaps in a sinister, unethical, and even illegal way, is a topic worthy of a much larger work, either a collection of thematically related short stories about numerous test subjects or as a novel.
My major complaint is about Mr. Reid’s use of character in the story. Every character in the story is a flat stock character, and the reader isn’t given enough information about any of them to have grounds for caring about their plight. The protagonist, whose name we are never given, is an unlikable, unsympathetic, unreliable narrator, so it is difficult to care about her or what happens to her.
None of the above, though, renders the story unworthy of being read. It is compelling and, technically speaking, fairly well-written; I only found one or two spelling and grammatical errors. And as I said, the main idea is important and worthy of a fuller treatment.
Mr. Reid, if you see this review, I’d be happy to offer more detailed editorial comments & suggestions. If you’re interested, drop me a line.
Cold Calling by Haydn Wilks
I received a free copy of the ebook from the author in exchange for my honest review. This review or a version of it is also posted on Amazon & Goodreads.
Cold Calling is not a pleasant story, and it is a difficult read, but it’s a not a bad book.
Let me explain. It’s not pleasant because, although not immediately apparent, it’s a horror story. It’s difficult for a couple of reasons. The story is told in a rapid-fire, second-person, semi-stream of consciousness style that serves to allow the reader into protagonist Rhys Davies’ head and understand his existential pain. The first part of the book repeats Davies’ daily routine ad nauseum: he wakes up, often late, then spends his workday at a mind-numbingly, soul-suckingly, pointless job at a call center; goes home, listens to a couchbound, t.v.-addicted roommate drone on endlessly about her meaningless day at a similarly demeaning job; retires to his bedroom and plugs in to the Internet, where he spends hours alternating between trolling relentlessly on multiple social media platforms and browsing increasingly depraved porno sites and engaging in self-abuse; goes out clubbing with his other despised roommate, drinks himself into a stupor; and finally stumbles home and tumbles into bed. Again. And again. And over and over and over again. As I said, ad nauseum.
But therein lies Mr. Wilks’ genius in this story. Just as that routine was becoming so boring that I was about to give up on the book, Davies’ actions veer off into the unspeakable, and it becomes apparent that the seemingly endless repetition of banality and depravity is necessary to establish the reason for Davies’ psychotic break. The second reason Cold Calling is difficult is because the acts that Davies commits once he finally breaks are truly, despicably, horrible, and his justifications for repeating those acts in escalating orgies of violence are deeply disturbing. No spoilers here; you’ll have to read the book to see how horrifying it really is.
Finally, just as in Wilks’ prior novel, The Death of Danny Daggers, which I also enjoyed and reviewed on Goodreads and Amazon, Cold Calling is full of spelling and grammatical errors, which at times become distracting, at least for this English major and former adjunct professor. Mr. Wilks, if you read this review, I’m offering my services as a copy editor on your next project if you’re interested. You already know how to reach me; just let me know.
I don’t end 3-star or better reviews on a bad note (I rated this 3 stars on Amazon & Goodreads) so I’ll finish by saying this: I’ve been reading horror fiction since I was a pre-teen, and this was the first story in years to really shock me.
My thanks to both Mr. Reid and Mr. Wilks for the free review copies.