Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Little Paranoias: Stories by Sonora Taylor.
Good horror takes the emotional core that you find in good dramatic writing and brings fear to the forefront of the story. Fear is our great equalizer. It is something we can all relate to and says a lot about who we are at our most base personalities. Nothing cuts us down to our essence faster than the uneasiness of a situation, and, in that naked vulnerability, horror takes the place as the human genre.
In Little Paranoias: Stories by Sonora Taylor, we see people being stripped to their most basic emotions, showing us what’s truly important to these characters. Spoiler: It’s not what they’re willing to die for, but rather what they’re willing to live for. This collection of short stories has both flash and longer form short stories (as well as a couple of poems).
It seems like Taylor has two types of stories: ones that revolve around murder and those that focus on supernatural moments. Almost all the flash pieces are focused on regular murder. They’re set up to put a woman in danger, but, in the final moments, we realize that’s what the woman had been hoping for, and the power dynamic shifts; they are the presence meant to be feared all along. I like this in theory, but when they’re written to be gotcha moments, it feels like the first part of the story is built on false motivations.
“The Note on the Door” is a story that comes to mind. A woman keeps walking by a home with a note taped to the door. Her curiosity finally gets the better of her and, when she walks up to read the note, she sees it’s a call for help. This puts her into action, getting into the house only to discover blood smeared across a wall. She feels sad because she was too late to save the person inside. Then a hand clutches her, a deep voice thanks her for finally reading the note. In a swift shift in tone, the woman pulls a knife out, stabs the man, and instead thanks him for writing the note. In this inconsistency, I felt almost cheated because the story was written for the twist. It felt like most of it was written specifically for that moment, championing a twist that wasn’t quite earned.
But there are moments in Little Paranoias that shine.
When Sonora Taylor hits it in Little Paranoias, she hits it hard.
“Weary Bones” is one of the first stories in the book: it’s about how people can get an injection offering a second life after death. When they die, they’ll come back, but an unforeseen side effect is all the flesh and blood melts off the person, leaving them to live again as a bare skeleton.
The core of “Weary Bones” focuses on Brandon, a boy whose grandfather comes back. While his parents are uncomfortable with the situation, Brandon loves having his grandfather back. They play dice and watch the sky from the porch, and Brandon finds a new emotional fulfillment in the re-connection.
Eventually, with so many skeletons making appearances, society becomes so uncomfortable that they create a dual purpose for cemeteries where they act as old folks’ homes, allowing the skeletons to live out their second life until they turn to dust and die forever. Brandon takes it upon himself to devote his entire life to working at these homes where he can help these people find a new peace in their second life. He wants to provide them with a final comfort, especially since they’ve been cast aside by their own families.
This story was a high point in the collection for me. It was strange enough to pique my interest but had enough emotional core that I felt tethered to it and cared about the characters.
There are a couple more stories that made me smile out of their pure weirdness. A flash story about two kids who have schemed the murder of their mother is stark, dark, and hilarious. That’s the way I like my horror, as long as it speaks to the greater human condition. When Sonora Taylor hits it in Little Paranoias, she hits it hard. These are the shining moments to focus on in the end, but, unfortunately, there were enough misfires to make for a wonky and uneven collection.