Falling Over is a collection of short stories written by James Everington and is the first time I’ve encountered his work. It won’t be the last. It’s a special moment when you read a new author and immediately get the feeling that you’re onto something special and such was the case here. The stories in this collection are evidence of great talent at work, both emotionally and intellectually stimulating.
The first story gives the collection its title and is one of the best stories I’ve ever read about paranoia. (And I don’t just say that because they will probably read this). Written in first person – as it had to have been – it’s a marvellously ambiguous tale that slowly builds an - ultimately almost unbearable - atmosphere of confusion and mistrust. There’s a hint of Bodysnatchers about it but the premise is presented in wonderfully written prose that allows the reader to tap into, and experience for themselves, the paranoia of the narrator. An unreliable narrator? Probably. Maybe. Possibly not… An uncertainty that adds another layer of enjoyment to the story. It’s an intelligent, thought-provoking piece of writing and a strong start to the collection.
The theme of paranoia is also evident in Sick Leave (which riffs on ring-a-roses, another reference to falling over) but which also throws fears of sickness and death into the mix along with a hint of alienation, the latter something it shares with New Boy which incorporates an extra measure of guilt for good measure. (And which also features a fall…)
Fate, Destiny and a Fat Man from Arkansas explores themes of – well, fate and destiny as it happens, the eponymous American a manifestation of the unavoidable karma meted out on two burglars who choose to break into the wrong house.
Light relief comes in the hundred words of Haunted which delivers everything you could possibly want from a piece of flash fiction with great aplomb.
The Time of Their Lives presents another view of mortality and is cleverly written from the perspective of a young boy, unable to grasp the reality of what is happening in the hotel he is begrudgingly staying in with his grandparents. The central theme will call to mind a couple of films which I won’t name for fear of spoilers but I will mention that the atmospheric writing conjured up images of sequences in Kubrick’s The Shining for me.
I personally believe that one of the circles of Hell (one quite near the centre actually) is made up entirely of thousands of suburban neighbourhoods, each with their own residents committee setting the standards of what’s required in order to "fit in" with the community. If you’re of a similar mindset then you’ll probably end up rooting for The Man Dogs Hated – an individual who falls way outside expectations in this tale which exposes the petty mindedness and hypocrisy of those who cast judgement on others, those who fail to conform to their own version of what’s right and proper.
The last two stories in the collection are perhaps the darkest. Drones is another first person narrative (and all the more effective because of it) from a soldier whose job is to carry out remote attacks by UAV, witnessing the death and destruction via computer monitor. This distancing effect has a profound effect on him, desensitising him to the terrible acts he is committing, rendering the act of killing automatic and emotionless. It’s a descent into madness tale which – if I was being overly-analytical – could have something to say about video gaming but, whether this was the intention or not, the ending is very dark, and very effective indeed.
The final story has the ironic title Public Interest Story – just how ironic it is becomes apparent as you read. It’s basically a (well deserved) diatribe against the British Press and the monumental hypocrisy of that institution. It’s not press intrusion that’s the theme here, rather manipulation and the horrifying ease with which public opinion can be influenced by untruths and prejudices presented as facts. There’s another theme running through the story too, that of mob mentality - the two feeding off each other to bring about a conclusion horrifying as much for its inevitability as what actually happens.
Falling Over is a fine collection of intelligent, thought-provoking horror which I thoroughly recommend that you buy. You can do that here.