REVIEW: Little Paranoias by Sonora Taylor
*WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS*
This is an absolutely remarkable collection of stories.
As I worked through each story in turn, I found myself delighted and astonished by - and consistently envious of - the depth and breadth of Taylor’s imagination. Every one creates a different, tiny and firmly feminist universe - even those with the same, or a very similar narrative thread running through them.
Given this, it seems only fair to talk about each one individually.
Possibly my favourite of these Little Paranoias, and certainly the one I found most moving. The premise is fascinating, but the execution - the small glimpses Taylor gives us of the lonely afterlife of skeletons that used to be human - lends it far more emotional heft than you’d expect of a story about, in effect, a bunch of sentient walking bones. Blame my perimenopausal hormones, if you will, but there were a couple of points that nearly brought me to tears.
Never Walk Alone / A Part Of You / Crust / The Note On The Door / Hollow:
Short, punchy, flash fic tales with a twist, in many cases just wry enough to make me smile. The Note On The Door, in particular, made me glad I’m not commuting anywhere right now.
Always In My Ear:
A warped and wonderful, near-future exploration of obsessive, quasi-romantic female friendship, this was one of several setups in the collection that felt to me as if it could easily expand to novel or novella length with meat on the bones to spare. I’d like to hear more about the central characters - but would love a deeper dive into the (possibly slightly dystopian?) world Taylor constructs around them.
A brief, painful exploration of the thousand ways we’re encouraged to hate our bodies. Wholly un-supernatural, and all the more horrific for it.
Drops / Snowfall / Death Is A Hunter / Perfection In Shadow:
More very brief flash fics, this time with a markedly surreal quality, stylistically and thematically. There’s no backstory here, just snippets of the horrific - which again, for me, leave the door open for more narrative exploration and explanation further down the line. Drops in particular was haunting, and left me desperate to know what the hell was going on, and why.
A collection-within-a-collection detailing the first moments of (what feels like) the end of the world, this one too could easily, for me, stretch to book-length - hell, given the premise, it could probably run to a Stand-style quartet. I wouldn’t have wanted a longer short story, because I’m not sure that would have done the idea justice. But it Taylor ever decides to go the Captain Trips route with it, I will absolutely be pre-ordering.
Stick Figure Family:
If you’ve ever been to Ikea on a Saturday and thought you had the measure of that harassed-looking woman with the Baby On Board sticker in the back of her minivan... this is the story for you.
Hearts Are Just “Likes”:
A darkly-funny look at Influencer culture and online showmances, this one made me chuckle - and had more than a hint of Jason Arnopp about it.
Another one that, for me, absolutely could’ve been a longer story or novella. Come for the cannibalism - stay for the Criminal Minds-esque serial killer marriage.
I read this as a continuation of the scenario established in Quadrapocalypse - an exploration of what happens to the survivors in the aftermath of the End Times. There were shades of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation about this one, albeit with a fair bit more sex than I remember there being in that one. I actually preferred this to the Southern Reach Trilogy; it felt to me (ironically) a bit more human, the style a bit less cool and detached. Again, at the risk of repeating myself: this could easily have run much, much longer.
Overall: this may be one of the best single-author collections of short horror stories I’ve ever read - up there for me with Skeleton Crew, Steve Duffy’s Tragic Life Stories and Jeremy Dyson’s Never Trust A Rabbit.
If you’ve not read it yet - what are you waiting for?