Review: Rusticles by Rebecca Gransden

Title Rusticles
Author Rebecca Gransden
Genre Short Stories, Urban Fantasy, Horror
Format Kindle Edition
Page Length 106
Publication Date 08 Jul 2017
Publisher Cardboard Wall Empire
Read Date May 2018
Recommended All of the yes. GOLDEN PIP AWARD!

Synopsis
In Hilligoss, a tired man searches for a son, a flamingo enthrals the night, and fireworks light up the lost. In these stories and more, Rusticles offers a meandering tour through backroads bathed in half light, where shadows play along the verges and whispers of the past assault daydreams of the present. Walk the worn pathways of Hilligoss.

I’m so happy I walked the worn pathways of Hilligoss! I mean, come on, after how much I loved anemogram., was there really any realistic chance that I wasn’t going to read this book? Rusticles is a collection of short stories all set in the fictional world of Hilligoss that Gransden has skillfully crafted. I’m pretty sure anemogram. is also set in this world. I’d have to go back and double check. I’ve read this book 2 additional times since I first read it about 7 weeks ago. That’s right, 3 times in 7 weeks. The first time I read it I made notes as I went along, and most of the notes on each story below come from that time. They are immediate first reactions to the stories. The second time I read it was to fact check a couple of things and to help me make minor additions to the reviews. Then the third time was because I fucking love these stories. Yep, get ready because I am about to fanboy so hard about this book and Gransden’s writing in general.

This is a long one, and I want to talk about each story, but if that’s not your thing, I suggest skipping down to the Overall Thoughts section. Just know this, I genuinely loved each and every one of these stories. Even the ones with yakky sex in them.

Hey ho, let’s go!

The Neon Black
I love this story. A sister and brother meet up one night to visit a park. Back when the siblings were children, something ‘went wrong’ for the girl in this park and ‘her blood burned for just under a year’. The siblings spend the whole night in the park, chatting about nothing in particular until dawn.

Oh what a marvellous opening story. Instantly we are thrown in to Gransden’s style and she sets the mood perfectly. Full of intrigue and as cryptic as ever, we don’t learn what the event was that happened to the girl, and we don’t need to. This is not that story. This is a meditation on the importance of having loved ones around us when we are fighting those difficult times. Just exquisite. Om nom nom, feed me more! Oh, look – there are more.

Dried Peas on a Wall
Growing up, I think we all had our little local childhood customs and modern folklore that we told each other. For me, we told each other that a witch lived in a house near where we would hang out and play and that it was safe to stand on two of her steps, but if we stood on the third step, she would curse us. We also had another tale about a local homeless man and that if you shouted a specific word or phrase at him as he walked past (everyone believed it to be a different word or phrase) he would be psychologically triggered to pull out a gun from his backpack and shoot you.

Dried Peas on a Wall is centred around a similar myth. One where the local children dare each other to knock on the door of a reclusive woman’s home. But it also explores the bullshit stories that are told in friendship groups. How one person saw this unbelievable thing and everyone else either goes along with it or remains silently sceptical. These stories, myths, and dares are told to break the boredom of passing the days. It’s fun to be creative, and lying as a child is a wonderful way to develop that skill. There is a nice observation in this about the enjoyment of getting swept up in these tales and stories and how often real life is much more mundane and uneventful. I love this story.

The Serpentine
I love this story. An aging gentlemen walks through a train tunnel, whiskey bottle in hand. He’s done this many times. He does this because of his guilt. He does this because of his pain of losing someone. He does this in desperation disguised as hope that this time he will get a different answer. He does this to meet up with a group of homeless people, one of which was the last to speak to his son, before he disappeared.

Dilapidated Flamingo
Be honest, how often do you think about flamingos? Or even more, just one particular flamingo? Well, I would say almost never, or at least that was until I read this. Now I think about this flamingo on a regular basis. I’ll be walking down the road, or washing the dishes, or sitting in the garden and BAM! FLAMINGO!

Our high school protag spots a flamingo in their garden one night. They become fascinated by it. They leave food out for it, and try to stay up to spot it on subsequent nights. They become the self-appointed saviour of the flamingo. But, as seems to be the way with Gransden’s stories, there is more here. We get a teasing insight into this person’s life, the way they think and their situation. Just enough detail to leave us wanting more. There is a theme here on how what can first seem like small occasions or discussions can leave a lasting impression on us.

I love this story. I think this is my favourite Gransden story I’ve read so far (although I also love Baby With a Flamethrower, Chewing Gum on a Mountain). Dilapidated Flamingo is such an intriguing story and has a quirky, energetic feeling throughout. Every time I have read it, I laugh out loud in parts.

The Boy at the Table
Woah! I love this story. This may be the first unquestionably supernatural story I’ve read from Gransden… maybe. Sitting at a kitchen table, is a boy. This boy has no legs. Not because they aren’t there, but because they have faded. Our protag studies the boy, trying to figure out what he wants, and why he has appeared at the kitchen table. They need to figure this out before the boy fades away again. The boy is here to play a game.

Creepy as fuck. I first read this at night, at about 2am, sitting in my pitch black garden. Yeah, I soon found myself moving inside to a brightly lit room. As with all great scary stories, sometimes it’s what is left to your own imagination that is scariest of all. This story is a masterclass in building tension.

Blue and Black
Ooooooo, this is good. I love this. The recently unemployed Matthew sits in his flat. His sister disappeared a few days ago, and he hasn’t left his home since. He sits on his windowsill watching the world go by, waiting for a call from his sister. But when his phone does ring, it isn’t his sister calling. Instead it is his oldest friend, Joe. He’s not calling for a catch up, or some idle chit chat. He’s calling in a panic, to see if it has reached Matt yet.

I’m not sure I can discuss much more on this without giving too much away or spoiling the story for new readers. All I will say is, I would not be sitting comfortably in my room if this happened. I would be freaking the fuck out. It is completely justifiable to start freaking the fuck out if this happens.

Starlight Dumpers
Oh how my innocent eyes do blush. (Blushing eyes sounds fucking horrendous!) Sexy things happen in this, and I found myself repulsed by how disgusting the whole thing is. Yet, I still love this story. Not only do yakky sexy things happen, but awesome sci fi things too.

During one evening, a guy is taken to a spot on the side of a hill that overlooks a factory. He is taken there by a girl from his school. A girl that is known for being sexually active, and that he first spoke to only a matter of days ago. She brings him to this spot to show him something special. At just the right moment, clockwork entities emerge from the factory, holding bits of junk. As the girl does her thing, the robots do theirs and life is created.

A shining example of Gransden’s trademark of telling multiple stories hidden between the lines of another. Although I was a little uncomfortable with some aspects of this, I was able to overlook them and the intrigue and mystery of the situation had me fascinated throughout.

Breakneck Hill
Towards the end of the day, a bus driver starts his final route of the day. He likes this route. He likes the thrill of driving his bus up a hill and imagining it getting ready to take off into the sky. At his next stop, a sheepish, quiet young woman gets on and things quickly take a dark turn.

So, erm. What?! I don’t think I really fully understand everything that happens in this. I love it, nonetheless. The more I think about it, the more questions I have. It’s bloody great it is. This is a quick summary of my thoughts as I read this: ‘Oh what a lovely little story’ … ‘Aww, he seems like a lovely bus driver.’ … ‘Hmm, erm… ok.’ *slightly on edge now* ‘Oh shit, right, wow.’ … ‘Oh.’ Aren’t you glad you come to me for the thoughtful, insightful reviews!

Dreams of His Skin
I love this. A woman is madly in love with her friend. A love so strong that it makes her previous crushes and love pale in comparison. But her friend is about to leave town, and she must pretend she is ok with it.

I couldn’t connect with this as much as the other stories here. The concept of romantic love is somewhat of a mystery to me. But I find it a fascinating aspect of people’s lives. From what I have read, and from speaking to other people, romantic attraction seems to be such a powerful emotion. Something that can take over a life and cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Sometimes for the good, sometimes not so much. I found it fascinating to read this protags experience and her feelings. As much as I have never felt that and can’t truly understand it, I didn’t ever feel like it was so alien that I wasn’t invested.

Miles
OK breathe! I challenge you to read this and not start reading it out loud with great passion and energy. Where do I even start with trying to sum up this? Well, let me start by just saying that I love this. And I’m simply going to leave it at that because anything else I try to say would not do it justice. If you’ve read this, I’m sure you’ll understand why. And if you’ve not read it yet, when you do, you’ll also understand why.

Downstairs
So, this is fucking creepy! Full on horror in parts. *shudders* I have, in the past, struggled with frequent episodes of sleep paralysis and night time hallucinations. Similar things happen in this as to what I would experience and so it properly scared me. Like, I was freaking out in parts. I loved it!

Ever wondered what happened to batshit crazy Miles from that one story that time. Well, in this story, we get to know. But we also find out more about the previously alluded to ‘Bowl’.

A girl (whose age I am unsure of, but probably mid teens??!) is visited at night by a horrific sight. A couple of days later she meets up with her friend, Jan, at The Bowl. By day, The Bowl is a local scenic spot visited by families having picnics and friends hanging out. By night, a different kind of thing hangs out… *is pleased with himself for that joke* You know, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more. *looks cheekily in your direction*… doyageddit? It’s a kneeslapper. *makes a weird creepy smiling face whilst nodding*… Sex. Sex happens. I’m hinting at sex. People do the sex. Penises hang out. That was the joke. The girl and Jan decide that before Jan buggers off to Australia, they should play a prank on the night folk. But life has a way of being unpredictable and things don’t always go to plan. Just, an excellent story to end on.

Slight tangent incoming! (Because that’s just what we need in a review that is already way too long! FFS Stark!) I used to work at a charitable project that worked with young people (from 8 up to 16 years old) that were being sexually exploited/abused. On the whole, it was pretty horrific and a very difficult field to work in, but occasionally we would hear humorous stories from the young people that would leave us all gobsmacked. Small moments of very necessary comic relief. I was never quite sure how much was truth and how much was a distraction technique to either keep us from learning too much, or to test how far they could go with us. At times, probably a combination of the three. There is little that can be done in those situations other than laugh at how absurd and ‘brass’ the stories were. The manner in which the girl in this story tells us of The Bowl and what happens there reminded me of that time.

OVERALL THOUGHTS
If you haven’t noticed by now, (and how have you not? I have literally explicitly stated it several times already) I loved this book and the stories it contains. I can speak with complete honesty when I say that there wasn’t a single story here that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. Gransden’s writing is cryptic and mysterious in the greatest possible way. As with anemogram., Gransden expertly tells you what is happening, but then often allows the reader to come up with their own reasoning as to why it is happening. There are these wonderful moments where I would have to take a metaphorical step back and consider how much is perception through projection. How much was I seeing something a certain way simply because that’s what I wanted it to be? After I read anemogram., I put a lot of thought into whether the story has a supernatural element to it or not. I changed my mind half a dozen times and I’m not sure if I really came to a concrete answer. Reading these stories has confirmed for me that it is at least possible for supernatural elements. Reading Rusticles left me reevaluating aspects of anemogram. How fucking marvellous is that?!

The stories within Rusticles share an intimacy in the way few stories manage. With each one it felt like I was being treated to a secret aspect or moment of someone’s life. With each reading, I entered a world that took me on a journey that explored humanity and the joy and misery that comes along with it. The contrast between darkness and light is a common theme in each story. They explore the dynamics of life. They each contain a different thought provoking moment – a feeling that I have become eerily comfortable with whilst reading Gransden’s stories. They feed the mind.

I am often left with questions after reading a Gransden story. But I feel that having answers might spoil the beauty. I think (although I could be completely off the mark) the point of these stories are not to give a lovely tied up with a bow ending. They are meant to challenge the reader intellectually. They are meant to leave you with questions. And that, in part, is what makes them so good. They are stories that stay with you long after you’ve read them. As I said above, I often think about the flamingo, and I often think about the boy at the table, or the girl on the bus. With each read through, I noticed something new that I missed the first time. And I’m sure that there are hidden connections and subtleties that I still haven’t picked up on. There isn’t a single story in this collection that doesn’t stir some emotion (or several) from within me. And what is a story for if not that?!

Sometimes I find an author that inspires me to write better. Neil Gaiman for his instantly lovable and relatable characters. Katherine Arden for her prose, descriptions and scene setting. Seanan McGuire for her no fucks given approach to having a diverse cast. Terry Pratchett for his world building and humour. And now Rebecca Gransden, for her skill in crafting the perfect feel of a story. One that effortlessly reaches in and connects with the soul.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Gransden is a master of the short story. She flexes her considerable writing muscle and skill in capturing the reader, taking them on an engaging and thought provoking journey, and then just at the perfect spot, leaves you wanting more. I read a lot of short stories, and I often find that they are either too short or feel rushed. Gransden’s stories are the complete opposite of this, never too much, never too little. I think it’s safe to say that I’m at the point where if a Gransden story is published, I’m going to read it without hesitation. I simply can’t get enough. Omnomnom, feed me even more.

Gransden’s author bio states ‘She tends to write about the edges of things so if you inhabit the fringes you may find something to like.’ and this sums up her writing perfectly. Her stories are gritty, dark, and melancholic, yet at the same time manage to be dreamlike, heartwarming and enlightening. The balance between the two extremes; perfect. I proudly inhabit the fringes, and I have definitely found something I like.

Anyway, I’m off to go looking for serpentine rocks. Until next time, Peace and Love.

Book LinksGoodreads | Kindle highlights | Amazon UK | Amazon US

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2 Comments

  1. Yeah, it’s been too long since I read anemogram and I recall the ‘feel’ of her writing… definitely knows how to create a scene and setting. I need to check this collection out bronto!

    Like

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