Book Review: Fragile Dreams by Philip Fracassi

“Thanks to the wonderful writing talent and dark imagination of the author, we are guaranteed a suspenseful and terrifying trip.”

Accomplished screenwriter and author, Philip Fracassi, has established himself as a master of the horror genre, garnering praise from the likes of Laird Barron, Paul Tremblay and Adam Nevill, to name only a few. While continuing to work as a screenwriter, in 2016 alone Fracassi has released two novelettes, Altar and Mother, to critical acclaim, as well as contributing short stories to various venues. Here we take a look at his most recent release, Fragile Dreams.

The story opens with our protagonist, Matthew, arriving at the offices of Baskin and Associates, a law firm, in desperate need of employment. After spending just a couple of pages in Matthew’s head, we are firmly in his corner, wishing him only the best for the job interview ahead, a daunting position that most readers will have experienced at some point. But this is a horror story, so we are always weary of the story taking a turn for the worse.

Being a novella, the story progresses at a quick pace, and we do not have to wait long for Matthew’s day to go south. Disaster strikes. One moment Matthew is standing in the fourth-floor reception area of the firm, the next he is buried beneath tons of steel and concrete, severely injured and seemingly alone. Here, Fracassi inserts a scene from Matthew’s past, providing us with some well-written back-story and characterisation for Matthew, as well as introducing us to his college girlfriend and childhood best friend, characters that will play a bigger part later in the story.

Indeed, these scenes of unconscious dreaming of the past are interspersed throughout the novella whenever the claustrophobic darkness becomes too much. Fracassi manages to strike a balance between the horror of being trapped underground and exploring Matthew’s back-story. While he conveys the injuries and dangers Matthew faces in his current predicament in fantastically gory detail, the flashbacks are a welcome intermission to his suffering, allowing the reader to appreciate Matthew as a fully-formed character with great depth and history.

During one of his periods of lucidity, Matthew comes to the realisation that he may not be alone underground. While there is a great deal of uncertainty around what is real and what is hallucinatory, the dread is all around. It builds and builds until, just at the moment when Matthew is at his most hopeful, it threatens to suck him into the darkest despair. This is expertly done by the author, managing to give his protagonist, and the reader, hope despite all of the terrible injuries he has experienced. And then to give the haunting and whispering darkness a physical presence that could potentially harm Matthew. It all leads to a disturbing and harrowing finale. It may not answer all of the questions, but it certainly hints that, for Matthew, the end of the book may not be the end of his story.

It would be remiss of us not to mention the bonus short story at the back of the book. It has no bearing on Fragile Dreams, but it is a very entertaining and well-written story. Entitled ‘Death, My Old Friend’, it tells the story of a lifelong friendship between our protagonist, John, and his school friend, Death. It is a friendship fraught with many awkward moments (as you might imagine) and although the reader may feel that the story can only end in a certain way, Fracassi’s storytelling style makes the ride an enjoyable one.

As it does for the novella, Fragile Dreams. We are not always sure of where that story is going or how it is going to end, or even if what Matthew is experiencing is a horrifyingly dark reality or the hallucinations of a dying mind, but thanks to the wonderful writing talent and dark imagination of the author, we are guaranteed a suspenseful and terrifying trip.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: JournalStone
eBook: (101 pp)
Release Date: 18 November 2016

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