There are some short story collections in which the author takes you to many different places and shows off different sides of their writing ability. And while those collections are good, I have a hard time reading them from front to back without taking a break to read something else in between. The stories are so different that you have to reacquaint yourself with the authors style at the beginning of each story.
That was not the case with Betty Rocksteady’s phenomenal collection In Dreams We Rot. Within the first few stories you realize the kind of trip Rocksteady is going to take you on and each story pulls you further down that path that you’re excited to be on and also nervous about what might come next.
Overall the stories are intense and the themes of love, lust and loss are woven through each story in a way that I didn’t realize at first. It wasn’t until I got to the end and looked back on the stories I’d read and recognized the feelings the collection as a whole was trying to pull out of me. And it did an incredible job of that.
I have to be honest though, I wrote the first part of this review just waiting to get to the best part. There is a story in this collection that ranks among the best short stories I’ve ever read. The list of people who’ve written short stories like that (which I may have to actually write up at some point) include Poe, Lovecraft, Evenson, King, Taff, and Nevill. Rocksteady also appears on that list now. The story is titled Tiny Bones Beneath Their Feet. This story is that good. I’ve read it twice so far. I will read it again.
The story is about a man who lives with and takes care of a colony of cats. The strangeness of the man is evident from the very beginning of the story. A woman comes to his house offering to help him care for the large colony and wants to see just how many cats there are in the group, so the man takes her on a tour. The entire time it is clear something is wrong but the reader, and the woman, don’t know what it is. As the man takes her through his back yard and the hundreds or thousands of cats move to let them pass, the story gets even more creepy and the sense of dread intensifies. The tension never really lets up until the final sentence of the story. It is, in my opinion, the perfect short story.
Other stories jumped out at me as I read through them, most notably, The Narrow Escape about a woman’s house that keeps shrinking around her. A metaphor for her married life with her husband which is obviously claustrophobic for her. A point driven home in the last part of the story. And finally, my second favorite story in the collection, The Language of Mud about a girl who sees her father disappear into a hole in the ground and spends as much time as possible in her back yard trying to find the exact spot her father disappeared in the hopes of pulling him back out or finding out where he ended up.
The collection as a whole is gruesome and deals with themes such as loss and love in a tremendously new and different way. It keeps the reader guessing and thirsting for more. It you haven’t ready anything by Betty Rocksteady before, this is a great and horrific place to start. A non-stop entertaining ride through the incredible, fantastic and disturbing worlds she creates. 4.5/5 from me on this one. It was near perfect.
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