My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Forgotten Lives by Tristan Shaw is a collection of short stories ranging from bizarre to horrific, and throughout all of the strangeness, there is dark humor to be had. This review contains many spoilers as there was much to critique, and it’s also a bit long due to this.
I enjoyed the campy feel of “The World’s Tallest Dwarf,” similar to reading short story collections like “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” The story is essentially about a dwarf who works in a carnival freak show, and he’s left to do cleanup work while others perform. A newcomer, Sergio, is ‘the world’s tallest dwarf.’ He takes over our narrator’s, the main character’s, tent and slowly gains favor, and everyone leaves the main character behind. The narrator is treated progressively poorer and is an outcast. I wish there was more of a reason for this. Was Sergio something more than a dwarf? How did his actions cause everyone to despise the main character? It’s an interesting story, but I’m left with too many questions.
In “Hagiography of a Corpse,” a man is killed for failing to have a license to wear shoes while living in an unnamed banana republic. Over time, his corpse is lifted and carried across the land, gathering many people to protest the injustices of a hateful president. A military general is even so intimidated that he flees ‘on a jet ski.’ Eventually, the president loses his mind due to the corpse being thrown through his office window, and he gives power to the corpse.
At this point, the story’s humor was getting a bit on the ridiculous side, but that may just be because it’s not my kind of humor.
In “Waiting,” Sophie, a young girl, is raised by her grandparents due to her mother leaving to go on various trips. Upon returning, the mother starts spending more and more time at night looking up at the stars. She confides in her daughter an alien secret, and that they are going home soon. The daughter rides with her mother out into a field, and they gaze up at the stars sitting on the car.
I liked this story a lot more than the previous one, but I still have many questions. Was the mother truly an alien? Did the mother a have mental illness and it caused a delusion, as it was mentioned she wasn’t supposed to even drive? This story has a lot of promise and I feel it should be expanded upon.
“The Society for the Preservation of Vice” is exactly as it sounds, a story about a society of deviants trying to preserve vice. It was clear, and especially upon the mention of the man’s name, that this was reminiscent of the Marquis de Sade. While I appreciated that, there were a few things in the story that lost me, such as the popular horror trope of Satanists dawning black robes, sacrificing virgins, and drawing evil pentagrams. This is a trope I heavily dislike and am tired of seeing, so my opinion on the story is tainted by that. Some may enjoy it where I did not.
In “A Gourmet’s Confession,” a gourmet finds himself suffering from a loss of taste. This leads him to try cannibalism, and he finds he’s able to taste again. So proceeds his gourmet adventures with human flesh written as a last letter.
There are a few jokes in this one that were a bit much, and while I’m not easily offended, others may be. Although the gourmet’s character is an awful, selfish one, comparing a loss of taste as being a worse tragedy than the bombing of Hiroshima or the loss of a woman’s only child was… we’ll just leave it at that. Taking that out, this was a good read.
In “Nostalgia,” a German man, August, leaves to become a mercenary. He’s known for his fine ability of dismemberment but is also described as a kind man who is loyal and diligent in his duties. He comes down with a case of nostalgia, and a doctor sends him home for a cure.
This had a very Twilight Zone feel to it. It was a well-rounded and complete story, and definitely quite odd, especially in the way the doctor practically beat his patient after failing with leeches to cure his ailment, but it fits with the darkly humorous theme and era (1600s).
In “The Adventure of My Uncle’s Murder,” a Sherlock Holmes style adventure unfolds as our main character becomes taken with the detective’s stories. They follow the path of their uncle’s murder and, due to their interest in police matters being solely based on literature, they end up on a wild goose chase.
I was lost on the foreign words for clothing pieces I didn’t understand. I would’ve had to look up a few definitions as the clothing wasn’t described in any other way, so this took me out of the story. There were also a few word choices that didn’t fit right, which caused me to pause in question. Overall, it was an enjoyable story despite the nuances.
In “The Spirit Photographer,” Vivian makes a living by fooling people into thinking she can photograph their dead family members. A quick bit of editing with a personal photo and the family has, what appears to be, a spirit photograph. One particular couple, however, wanders in and asks for a picture of their son, Knut. Vivian begins to see that ghosts are indeed real, and there is something about Knut.
I’m still wondering what happened to Knut and why the parents took forever to return for their photograph. I think it hinted at self-harm or abuse for the child, but I’m not sure. It was written in the form of journal entries, so this could be why we have questions. While I did enjoy the story, there were too many things unanswered.
“A Final Masterpiece,” I think, is an essay about an infamous theater performer, Evzen Svoboda. I’m not sure why this was included in the book since it doesn’t seem to be fiction, as it has reference notes throughout and at the end. It was genuinely shocking and strange in nature which fits the style of the book, but not knowing whether it was a genuine essay or not, I tried to look up some cited sources. I was mostly led to confusing foreign articles. At this point, I skimmed because I was unsure of why it was here and it read like a well-researched report in a book of otherwise fictional tales.
At last, “Eternal Glory” is about Tiamat, who watches helplessly as Inanna chokes to death on honey and dies, and after a time, seeks out a philosopher to tell him about his death, which is odd because as Tiamat is identified in this story as male, according to studies, Tiamat was a goddess. That aside, the philosopher mocks Tiamat and is put to death. This starts a war, and Tiamat ends up taking his own life. I’m assuming the characters are the goddesses Tiamat and Inanna, and not just people named after them, but I’m not familiar with much of their lore.
I had difficulty getting through “Eternal Glory” as it just isn’t a genre I’m a fan of. There was a war happening and then eventually Tiamat kills himself, which was ironic, but beyond that, this one lost me.
Overall, I feel that while the book started off rather well, regardless of leaving me with many questions for a few of the stories, it seemed to drag near the end with an essay thrown in before a story about a Babylonian war. The last two did not feel like they fit the overall theme of the book.
I encourage the author to continue writing, but to better organize and choose which stories should go in a collection. Strange and weird definitely go together and can cross genres if done well, but overall, while I understand the general theme of weirdness and dark humor, some of the stories left a lot to be desired.
As always, I give many kudos to the author for writing a book and putting it out there. There is always the chance that a particular book is just not for me, and others may enjoy it where I did not, but I highly recommend the author take more care in future books to be sure to answer the important questions posed by a story. I appreciate the chance to review this book and wish the author nothing but the best for their future.