“For those who enjoy fiction of a weird nature with a capital ‘w’ The Secret of Ventriloquism should not be missed.”
If The Secret of Ventriloquism were to be summed up in a single word, that word would have to be ‘unsettling’. Starting with a guided meditation to prepare the reader to fully experience the horrors to follow, Jon Padgett presents six works of short, weird fiction, with the emphasis on the weird. Sandwiched in the middle of all that is a wholly disturbing, twenty-step guide to advanced ventriloquism. As a former ventriloquist himself, the theme seems an apt one for the author to weave his strange worlds around. While the stories do not all involve ventriloquism per se, as the introduction by Matt Cardin (Dark Awakenings) implies, this voice of the ventriloquist somehow permeates each of them.
The collection’s first story, ‘Murmurs of a Voice Forknown,’ is one of childhood bullying and humiliation, capturing the sense of being the put-upon younger brother aptly. As the story progresses, the knots in the reader’s stomach grow tighter until it reaches its resolution. ‘The Indoor Swamp’ follows with a description of the theme park attraction that no-one would ever want to visit, but which, in the story, is described as an unavoidable, inescapable place.
The third story, ‘Origami Dreams’ serves up sorrow and disturbance in equal measure as a hidden manuscript from under a piece of furniture in the protagonist’s home provides answers to unknown questions and leaves the reader with a hollow sense of despair. This is followed by perhaps the most disturbing piece of all in the form of ’Twenty Simple Steps to Ventriloquism.’ Beginning as nothing more than what one might expect, explaining voice throwing techniques, etc, the steps become unfathomably dark as the guide progresses and an entirely new definition of the ventriloquist is established.
Following on from this is the longest of the collection’s stories, ‘The Infusorium.’ Composed of six chapters and taking the form of a recollection by a female murder detective, Padgett places the story in the location of ‘Origami Dreams,’ using characters from that story, too. Elements from the ‘Twenty Steps …’ are also included. The story establishes a thematic connection running throughout the collection and reveals horrific, bizarre new details about the setting of Dunnstown, Alabama. The final story in the book, ‘Organ-Void’ finds a kindly female protagonist who elects to help a homeless person by buying their cardboard sign from them. What she does not anticipate is the sickening result of this action. Rounding the collection off is the one act play, ‘The Secret of Ventriloquism.’ Starring familiar names from some of the other stories and detailing a ventriloquist’s final steps of his journey to becoming a greater ventriloquist, the play is heavy on the weird and the unsettling, also hinting at explanations for some of the major events of the rest of the collection.
In all, The Secret of Ventriloquism is a highly enjoyable read. The sense of dread the reader is set with from the opening guided meditation lingers throughout and while the details issued throughout the stories help to unravel the mysteries within each in some way, they offer nought in the way of comfort. Indeed, the tales are so fixed within this world of ventriloquistic horror and control that it is reasonable to wonder at times whether the author believes in it himself.
If there is one thing which might deter some readers from approaching the collection, it might be that the concepts and stories are simply too weird for them to understand. Readers of more straightforward genre literature may find it too difficult to buy into. But, for those who enjoy fiction of a weird nature with a capital ‘w’ The Secret of Ventriloquism should not be missed.
Publisher: Dunhams Manor Press
Paperback ( 201pp)
Release Date: 31 October 2016
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