Trying to accurately describe collections of short fiction can be intimidating. Even some of my favorite collections that I’ve read can be uneven. There’s a certain obligation to mention which stories work and which ones can be skipped, and mention as many as possible. A difficult task becomes nearly impossible when the story counts hits twenty.
Fortunately, I’m delighted to report that Little Paranoias, by Sonora Taylor, sets itself apart from the typical collection of short fiction, combining poetry with longer-form stories with a lot of, what I came to think of as, vignettes. The bulk of these pieces establish a certain comfort in discomfort as Taylor seems to almost take pleasure in leading us down a certain path, and then viciously pulling the rug out from under our feet. After a while, the reader starts to feel, dare I say, paranoid, but it doesn’t get any easier to guess where we’ll end up.
Little Paranoias is bookended by short pieces of poetry, and Taylor uses the opening to welcome the reader to her world. Weary Bones drops us right into the thick of things, making sure we know why we came and that things are going to get dark and weird. One of the stories that worked best for me was Always in my Ear, a warped take on society’s obsession with true crime podcasts. Quadrapocalypse is also intriguing, offering snapshots from differing viewpoints of the end of the world. Seed is the penultimate, and longest, story. It unfolds a post-apocalyptic tale whether Mother Nature really lets humanity have it.
If this collection were made up of just stories, I think I still would have enjoyed it, but what truly won me over were the pieces of flash fiction that almost serve as interludes. Each one is a glimpse of a character, a moment, or a situation containing darkness within. Some of the most powerful and/or memorable ones include Death is a Hunter, Stick Figure Family, Never Walk Alone, and Part of You. Deserving of a special mention is Salt, which contains the best twist in the whole book.
Little Paranoias comes out on October 22nd and is available to pre-order on e-book, but will also be released on paperback. There’s a little something for everybody and the cover artwork by Doug Puller, is phenomenal. This is easily one of the most unique collections of the year, and one I will be revisiting from time to time.