Don’t Let "The Ones That Got Away" Escape You

Story collections are like golf shots . . . if you run into a crap story, the next one could be the redeemer, so it keeps you interested start to finish.  You run into a stinker of a novel, you’re screwed for 300 pages, you know?  But in reading the latest from Stephen Graham Jones, The Ones That Got Away, I’m reminded that it is still possible for a collection make me say, “Seriously, this next one cannot be better than this one.  No way.”  And then delivers again.  And again.  And again.

I wasn’t this giddy or delighted reading a stack of stories since I was 10 years old, mopping up King’s Skeleton Crew, crapping my footie pajamas to “Survivor Type” and “The Jaunt.”

Jones slam-banged me right out of the box with the very first story, “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit,” about a stranded father and son who continue to eat a “magical” rabbit over and over again to stay alive.  I was thinking about that story for days, and it has all the makings of a lifetimer for me, where I’ll be sixty talking about that story to someone, probably my grandkids, who will laugh when I try to explain what a payphone was.

Bookending the collection is “Crawlspace,” which, if you think a telepathic infant sounds creepy, wait until the guilt of our narrator’s infidelity starts to get the best of him.  The final page is unsettling.

Special thanks to the story “Raphael” for just existing.  Wow.  This one accomplished a rare feat in my reading exploits . . . there are two pages that just made me stop and reread them on the spot, then I finished the story, then read the whole thing again.

There’s another story where the title itself can give you nightmares.  Two words for you: “Meat Tree.”  Think about that.

King called his men’s magazine stories that populated Night Shift and Skeleton Crew “screamers.”  Well, Jones takes the screamer mentality and deploys it full force, with an ability prod you along with sentences that are sharp enough to cut.  Twisty and startling, the stories don’t finish up in predictable “screamer” fashion many times . . . they just worm their way into you, make themselves at home, and you’ll feel like your balance is off for a few days.  You find yourself wanting a little extra sunshine, maybe a long shower.  This effect is achieved largely through the use of childhood as a gateway to the horrors within the collection, and the close attention paid to who the horror happens to as opposed to how.

The story notes are a treasure trove for anyone interested in fiction, the author, or just loves having insight into these excellent stories.  Better than that crap bonus material you find DVD’s, that’s for sure.

You want me to sit here and gush about every story?  Just go out there and buy this book.  Like, now.

Fred Venturini

Fred Venturini is an author and freelance business consultant. He grew up in Patoka, Illinois. In 2014, his story "Gasoline" was featured in Chuck Palahniuk's Burnt Tongues anthology. His short fiction has been published in the Booked Anthology, Noir at the Bar 2, and Surreal South. The Heart Does Not Grow Back, published by Picador in 2014, is his first novel. He lives in Southern Illinois with his wife and daughter.

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