Book Review: Tribulations by Richard Thomas

Tribulations is a must-read collection of brilliantly sculpted emotion and passion that will leave you exhausted yet unable to close your eyes.”

Instinctually, we associate the word horror with crimson blood, high-pitched screams, guts and gore, monsters, but that’s only because that’s what we’ve been fed over the years. It’s a challenge to escape those confines, to breach the surface, and discover that there are much more beautifully sad, heart-wrenching, all-too-humanistic tales of horror—the kind that keep you up at night and prevent you from flicking the switch to turn the last light off, not because you’re scared of the axe murderer or vampire lurking in the shadows, but because you feel like you have been thrown smack-dab into the middle of the sorrowing, crestfallen lives of the protagonists. The narrator’s words and thoughts now your own, you find yourself fighting for every last morsel of a dwindling hope.

Tribulations is Richard Thomas’ third short story collection, and it is his finest collection of work to date. It’s beautifully written prose with a literary bent which is a Thomas trademark, but darker in a more subtle tone than we’ve experienced in his previous works. Although there are moments of Thomas’ transgressive side weaved throughout, as well as some science-fiction and even bizarro, most of these stories lean more to a Poe-esque dark romanticism.

Fireflies is the kick-off story and sets the pace for the collection. You’re trapped inside a deteriorating cabin, surrounded by vicious blood-thirsty mongrels, their yellow eyes like flickering fireflies that signify a glorious past life, left alone to dwell on a love that was taken from you, ripped away, and for nothing. Her ghost pushes you past your regret and urges you to carry on and to keep fighting, but how long can one endure such a heavy unrelenting burden? In Vision Quest, you’re stuck reliving the moment you found out your wife and children were dead, Thomas placing you at the scene, in the morgue—the black sacks unzipped exposing their fragile lifeless faces and the horrific violence that is car accidents. You’re left mourning while trying to reconnect with your loved ones—using your car as a wrecking machine to break you through to the other side for even a glimpse of your wife and children. The attention to detail and emotion here is what really drives this story home. The Culling places you in a seemingly helpless situation, unable to protect your young daughter in an inevitable sacrificial event. You find yourself remorsefully hoping that another child is chosen—any child. You’re left standing there, trying to breathe, with one remaining choice that signifies the only chance to keep your precious little girl alive, but at what sacrifice? Balance Sheet is another story that displays the love between a father and daughter and bids the question: how much pain can you take in order to protect the ones you love? Thomas takes you there and then farther, pushing you beyond limits you never knew existed.

Narrowing down which stories to speak to proved a helluva task as almost every story in here has its place amongst great dark literature. The closing paragraphs to each story, living through the twisting conflict and slow-burning resolution, we could feel the energy course through our bodies, the hair on our arms standing on end, our hearts racing. Thomas boldly displays, that in the short story writing world, he is a master closer and poetically so.

Our one bit of criticism is that there are a few stories that simply do not fit with the rest. Although they are well written and entertaining reads, they are missing the one key component of every story in here—true deep human suffering. Not just your standard suffering, but a suffering so harrowing, so real, that even when you realize you’re reading about robots or anthropomorphized creatures, you can relate, the protagonists emotions bleeding from every pore in your skin.

Readers of dark fiction and those who aspire to write it, take note. What Richard Thomas has done here is special. This is what it’s all about. Just when you think you know good story-telling, Thomas raises the bar once again, placing it almost out of reach at this point. Tribulations is a must-read collection of brilliantly sculpted emotion and passion that will leave you exhausted yet unable to close your eyes. As Stephen Graham Jones wrote in the introduction: “Read this if you dare, read it with gloves on, with protective eye gear, with your mind encased in mental plastic. It won’t matter. There’s something corrupt here.” Put on your favorite depressing Pandora station—This Will Destroy You seems fitting—lay in bed, and open the book. But be careful of what happens when the lights go off.



Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Paperback Edition (234pp)
Release Date: 9 April 2016

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