Published by Crystal Lake Publishing
Much of the modern world of literary darkness is dominated by the hokey, the lame, and the boring. Tired old monsters and motifs trudging through endless pages, performing by rote and doing anything at all but scaring the reader.
Richard Thomas isn’t interested in regurgitating that old bullshit. Instead, he’s been creating some of the most original and compelling neo-noir out there today. The stuff he writes isn’t horrifying because it’s gory or supernatural or weird, although it can be all three. It’s horrifying because it feels real.
Tribulations, Thomas’ latest book of short stories, is no different. You won’t find much in the way of tradition here. No skulking vampires shying away from crosses; no howling werewolves rending human flesh; no unkillable killers stalking coeds through the woods. Instead, you’ll find identifiable characters in some of the most awful situations imaginable. These stories are indeed monstrous, but they’re full of purely human suffering. Tragedy, loss, and regret abound; and no matter how strange the circumstances, it’s impossible not to get sucked in to these genuine nightmares. There’s just no way for the reader to separate himself from Thomas’ stories. No way to pull back and be an observer.
This is dark magic, this ability to make the freakish seem everyday. Few of us will ever have to contemplate sacrificing our children to unseen beasts in the woods. Fewer still will ever lose a lover and find a way to regrow her out of the earth where she died. These are singularly odd situations. However, Thomas’ great talent is in bypassing the outlandish with characters who are real and honest. The reader forgets that these things are eccentric and impossible because the characters are just so goddamn possible.
Too often, authors rely on the sheer toxicity of events to carry the story. It doesn’t matter how crippled and cardboard the protagonist is if he keeps going through horrible shit. So what if he has no depth, no authenticity, no humanity? He was captured by psycho hillbillies, raped by their pet bobcat, and forced to eat his own wife before escaping into the woods where he stepped in a bear trap and had to hack his foot off with a shovel.
But the fact that horrid things happen to people isn’t really important unless we care about the people involved. If we don’t, then the story just becomes a listless litany of useless misery.
Same with the bizarre. Some authors try to scrape together a story based solely on how weird they can make it. But weirdness for weirdness’ sake is boring, too. You can almost feel the writer trying too hard, straining to take it to such a peculiar level that the reader simply forgets there’s no real story there and marvels at the absurdity.
These are not issues that Thomas has. His characters are so easy to identify with, so painfully broken, and so ultimately human, you’ll be trapped in their weird stories while terrible things happen to them. The pages damn near breathe with their reality. Their monsters are your monsters. Their suffering is your suffering.
Richard Thomas is on the cutting edge of neo-noir fiction, and I dare anyone to say different. Tribulations is his best yet: elegantly twisted, superbly creepy, and dripping darkness. This is required reading for anyone into the shadow side of literature.