Book Review: Reaper by Briana Robertson.
In my inaugural blog last week, I mentioned that – from time to time- reviews of both written and visual media would be part of the content readers will find here. I also pointed out that horror would be a fairly persistent thread winding through this blog.
In that spirit, I’ve written a review of a book I finished earlier this week. So without further adieu, here we go:
The Target: Reaper
The Creative: Briana Robertson
The collective responsible for anyone being able to read this: Stitched Smile Publications
The year it was unleashed upon the populace: 2017
Briana Robertson’s single author collection Reaper gathers five dark tales offering a variety of perspectives on humanity’s greatest fear – death- from a distinctly feminine perspective.
Powered by the author’s remarkable gift for prose, the stories are engaging and the book was a breeze to devour. One of the very real pleasures in reading this tome was witnessing how Robertson uses her technical skills, painting a vivid emotional portrait of what’s happening on the page as well as a physical one. The stories are populated with characters possessed of immediately recognizable human weaknesses – and strengths- making them easy to relate to.
However, not all narratives are created equal and , as is usually the case with collections, not every story worked to the same degree for me. I’ll be touching on that in more detail below.
So here’s my breakdown by story, in order of their sequence in the book:
Reaper: The titular tale and the one definitively supernatural selection of the bunch. The cliff notes version is this is a look at a day in the life of the Grim Reaper, here presented as a woman who isn’t particularly fond of her job. I thought this got off to a somewhat rocky start, but quickly found its bearings and delivered a fascinating take on how workplace sexual politics might manifest on the other side of death. This one produces some unexpectedly heart-wrenching moments , leading to a starkly effecting conclusion. It’s a good note on which to begin the collection.
Capitulation: Both chilling and sad, this is a devastating story, told from the perspective of a woman who has given up hope. The writing here is so rich and descriptive, it really puts the reader inside her head. Robertson consistently demonstrates an uncanny knack for making us feel what her characters are experiencing throughout the entire collection and that gift is on full display in this story. This is a tale that’s meant to leave bruises. Mission accomplished.
Prey: A woman is violated and then seeks revenge on her tormentor. That’s about all the plot I can give, because Robertson does some interesting things here . The story – which I believe is the longest in the collection- is extremely well written. The subject matter is uncomfortable and the author dives headlong into it , never holding back nor apologizing as she masterfully exposes the physical and psychological horrors of rape, as well as the often callous response to such crimes by men. What makes this tale terrifying – and all the more effective- is the plausibility of the plot for the majority of the work.
And that’s also why this was the only selection I ultimately had criticisms of. In the latter part of “Prey” , the plot swerves into the matter of revenge . I don’t want to divulge spoilers, but what the protagonist comes up with requires the human monster who’s the focus of her rage to believe her on a level I wasn’t able to accept. In the earlier part of the story, he’s definitely fleshed out as a psychopath, but how he goes about committing his crimes in these early passages suggests someone too intelligent to just accept what she says to him on face value later on. This in turn sets up the ending, which I also had issues with. Again, avoiding spoilers, there is a decision made by a character that closes out the tale, indicating a dark, new direction for their life. I was uncertain if readers were supposed to accept this individual as an avenger or a lunatic. If I’m being completely honest, while I really wanted to think the first, it felt more like the latter. Consequently, I walked away from this story unsatisfied with how it concluded.
Now, having made those points, it’s a distinct possibility other readers will be a lot more taken with “Prey” than I was. It is powerful stuff and the prose is top notch. This isn’t by any stretch a bad story. I just didn’t think it came together as well as the others. Particularly the next in line…..
Holy shit. This is a fucking masterpiece. With “Lucy”, Briana Robertson has accomplished something no author has been able to do in roughly a decade. For the first time in years, I actually cried while reading a story.
I absolutely refuse to divulge any substantial details; Going in as blind as possible is the best way to experience this one. All you’ll get from me is that it’s about a mother who faces a parent’s worst nightmare. Robertson pulls you in , holds you at rapt attention, rips your heart out of your chest and then hits you with a grand slam whammy of a conclusion that had this reader’s jaw scraping the floor. This was such an exquisitely crafted piece, I would favorably compare it to the best works of Shirley Jackson. Not only does this stand as the high watermark of the collection, this is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read, period. End of discussion. “Lucy” absolutely blindsided me.
Phobia: I had a huge, twisted grin stretched across my face by the time I finished this final tale. For the closing story, Robertson delivers a shocker designed to terrify readers and send goose-flesh rippling across every inch of skin on their bones. About two thirds of the way through this, I recognized this as a clear instance of an author having an absolute blast in creeping out her audience. Easily the most frightening story in the book and guaranteed to make even the most stoic readers squirm, I won’t soon forget this nasty little gem.
The Bottom Line: Crafted in gorgeous prose by an artist exceptionally skilled at populating her stories with three dimensional characters, Reaper was an intense, incredibly entertaining read. My comments regarding the latter part of “Prey” aside, I highly recommend this one to fans of dark fiction. Briana Robertson is an author you should be reading.
****1/2 out of ***** stars. A must read.
Thanks for reading!
Catch you on the flip side.
–D.S. Ullery 2/9/19