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Parallel Hells

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As Luke is panting, hiding under a table to shelter from his pursuer, in the same breath, the reader sees Carly tracing her lover’s concaves with her tongue. I chose to jump back and forth between the two stories, paragraph by paragraph, but you could read either story in full first then go back and read the other. When Stan, who is white, confronts Gary, who is black, the encounter bristles with accusations of racism.

Parallel Hells will not disappoint any connoisseur of the gothic in its most fulsome and unapologetic sense. Horror has always been a genre that I have avoided, especially when fantasy is involved as I tend to get freaked out quite easily. I can't say anything else except to repeat that this collection was a tremendous disappointment though I have hopes that other writings by this author might not be.Leon Craig has reinvigorated the Gothic genre, investing it with a witty and iconoclastic contemporary sensibility. It instantly reminded me of Tell Me I'm Worthless but I feel that it felt a lot more gimmicky in this book/didn't work/wasn't necessary for this story whereas in Rumfitt's novel, it complemented the story? Even when Yves introduces himself later in the narrative as Michael, the eerie character of “Stoker” is indelible, a second skin we can’t peel away. As Luke chases her through the dilapidating mansion, furnished with all the trappings of a distinctly gothic setting, he suddenly feels as though he is being pursued by somebody, and feels the urge to flee himself.

In using it to overcome her academic rival, the character tells us “There was nothing so pure as being in things but not of them. It was what I had once loved about the past, the intimacy of studying other human beings and uncovering what had long remained secret, without any messy interaction. Raw pork and opium has one of the more interesting styles of writing explored however the context of the story leaves you going. I loved the two stories that really experimented with form: “raw pork and opium,” which features two narratives side-by-side across several pages; and “No Dominion,” which is told in an elliptical form. It is such a fresh and playful approach to storytelling that you cannot help but be totally enamoured with Craig’s abilities.

The author uses unfinished 'endings' too often where the reader sits and goes "Wtf was that supposed to mean? The beating heart of this community is The Arms, a rodent-infested pub where many of the characters glance off of each other. There are a lot of turns of phrase that I lingered on because they were either quite romantic or just particularly lovely to read. The first story in the collection 'Unfinished and Unformed' promised much and left me excited to read the rest. Her writing has been published by the White Review, the TLS, Another Gaze and the London Magazine, among others.

There was a lot to like in all these stories (as I mentioned, Craig’s writing is a standout), but some of the stories’ meaning struck me as obtuse and made it hard for me to connect with them, and Craig never really gives a satisfying, full-stop ending to any tale (even the ones I liked), which, yes, adds to this hazy vibe but also left me a little frustrated when it kept happening. Exhausted from listening to a far-fetched anecdote, Maria “felt at once that this was fascinating, and interesting, that it was something of a privilege to be trusted with it, and also that there was something wrong about it all, something that wasn’t entirely decent. As we trace Carly’s column down the page, we follow her brief excursion to a faraway room, where she proceeds to have a seemingly paranormal sexual encounter.This is really only for those who think horror is based on apathy, alcohol and drug abuse, sex (including kinky stuff) and a general dislike for any and all people, because aside from the disdain most characters feel for their fellow characters and the horrifying sex scenes, this isn't scary. This seamless mingling of the traditional and the modern can sometimes mean that readers are left uncertain at the beginning of stories, wondering what and where characters are, and it can sometimes be a challenge to see Craig’s vision.

Throughout these startling and original short stories, readers' expectations are regularly subverted - and amply rewarded. There wasn't a single story in here I disliked, and very very little I could fault this story on at all.Macabre, Gothic, sensuous (textures are everywhere), sharp (neither too rich nor too sparse) extraordinarily, varied from Icelandic sagas to London sex dungeons (OK, maybe not that varied! I bought this debut of thirteen short stories after hearing the author speak at the Jewish Book Festival and I’m so glad I did. Each of the thirteen stories, never overwritten, always sensuous and atmospheric, packs a brief, intense punch.

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