A flawless short story anthology is a rare thing, but this may well be it. Editors Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones have selected 14 startling, unsettling tales and strung them together in an order that best shows off their facets, of which, of course, there are many.
I’d expect nothing less from the duo who have already put together four excellent Unthologies. There’s a sense of them curating the book as an event, hanging each tale so that the preceding and following stories will enhance the impression each one leaves you with. In this scenario the first and last have added responsibility, drawing you in one end, and easing you out of the other, a little altered despite yourself.
The opening story, A Little More Prayer by Angela Readman, does this effortlessly with the story of a teenager in the aftermath of a kidnapping, subtly shifting your understanding of events until you emerge, troubled but intrigued.In the final tale, The End of The World, CS Mee has her characters reminiscing about pies as they contemplate “the end of everything.” It’s a beautiful juxtaposition, as instead of being distressed about their fate, they rouse the elderly women from the knitting and whittling and urge them to bake. “Since it was the end of the world, everyone was allowed a second helping and an estra dollop of custard.”
Other stand-outs include the neatly spliced viewpoints of Death and the Maiden by Maggie Ling, the dark fairytale of Andrew Oldham’s The Lesser God, in which a man slowly turns to stone, and the elegant melancholy of Victoria Heath’s The Coroner. Yes, I know, I’m listing one after another, but it’s difficult to find any to omit. Each tale has its own merit, its own strengths. As I said, this may well be an almost faultless assortment of tales.
Above all, Unthology 5 is an examination of human nature, our paranoia, our pettiness, our desire to do right and be in the right. It’s a plateful of personalities tainted by their own cloudy judgements of those who surround them, but more than that, of themselves.
To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.