Book Review: Nobody Gets Hurt and Other Lies by Nicholas Day

“Here we have further proof—as if any were needed—that Nicholas Day can write on any topic, and about any subject, and can completely enthral his audience.”

 

Nicholas Day is the author of novella Necrosaurus Rex (JournalStone–Bizarro Pulp Press, 2015), the Wonderland Award-nominated collection Now That We’re Alone (JournalStone–Bizarro Pulp Press, 2017), and runner-up for the 2018 This Is Horror Awards Novella of the Year, At the End of the Day I Burst Into Flames (JournalStone–Bizarro Pulp Press, 2018). While the longer length of a novella allows Day to explore broad themes and spread out from horror, the short story has often been described as the perfect length to deliver a good horror tale. And that is something Day proved with the exceptional Now That We’re Alone. Here, we take a look at the new collection and whether or not it can live up to the high standard set by its predecessor.

As with the first collection, Nobody Gets Hurt … opens with a short poem, like an appetiser before the main course. ‘Breathtaking’ is a brief encounter between a man and woman that plays out not as you would expect, probably not as the man expected. Or perhaps, given the title, it is exactly as you would expect. It is done very well, delivering story and emotion with so few words.

In ‘The Plume and the Glow’, Day addresses the possession trope, using the death mask of notorious murderer Hop Holloway and the fascination it holds over four teenage friends. Day does an excellent job of exploring the dynamic of the group, allowing each character’s personality to play out naturally, the mask simply amplifying the violence that we are all capable of. The true horror of the story comes not from the prop, but the fragile nature of young men.

Flash fiction story ‘How Old Is a Shadow’ tells of the chance meeting of two joggers on the same street at the same time. When Tom meets the stranger, he is told of a method for achieving immortality. As with many stories told in the same vein, by the time he realises the price he will have to pay, it is too late. It is a very short tale but, in exploring our insatiable desire to beat mortality for as long as possible, Day delivers an effective story while demonstrating his considerable talent to not just describe a situation, but describe it in a unique and often beautiful way.

Rey is a low-level crook who prefers to think of himself as a Robin Hood-type character, taking from those with too much and giving to those in need. Then he comes to the attention of crooked cop Gonzales who wants Rey to steal from his house on ‘Capistrano Boulevard’. But it isn’t just “things” he wants Rey to take. To say exactly what would be to spoil the story. There is nothing overtly supernatural about the story, Day instead focusing on the evil that men do to deliver the horror. But it is an exciting tale, with just the right balance of action and great characterisation.

‘Constellations on the Face of a Lover’ begins with a freckled woman held captive in a room due to a supposed illness. Commanded to remain in bed by a man who claims to love her, and at the behest of a doctor, paranoia and suspicion soon overcome her and she begins to investigate her room. It soon becomes clear that the only way she will win her freedom is to fight for it. Her plight is reminiscent of Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, but Day takes his story in a more contemporary and forceful direction thanks to the strength of his protagonist and the hints to her origin.

‘A Storm Filled with Fire’ expands on the origin of a character from Day’s story ‘Beast Mode’ from his earlier collection. It begins with a scene in Egypt, 32 B.C. where the Pharaoh betrays the loyalty of a trusted servant, a werewolf who commands an army of his own kind to build the Pharaoh’s tomb. But this betrayal comes back to haunt a descendant of the Pharaoh when, in 1894, he tries to recover something from the tomb and instead awakens the beast. It is an interesting take on one of horror literatures most enduring monsters as a beast of servitude, who tries to shake off the shackles.

‘Wake Up, Daddy’ is another story with a connection to Day’s earlier collection, featuring the same giant turtle from ‘Chomp Chomp’. Henry’s young son, William, is obsessed by stories of a giant turtle monster living in the Mississippi River which runs by the back of their property. Henry tries to convince him that it’s just a story kids have been telling each other for many years, a story to keep curious kids away from the dangerous currents. But, when William’s dog goes missing, the boy’s fascination and curiosity with the river only grows until Henry learns the truth about the old monster. It’s a great monster story, but it’s also a great story about the struggle of parenthood and always worrying if you are getting it right.

The ‘Philosophy of Cheese’ is a very short story, really just a discussion between two men. Well, three men. But the third is unresponsive. The unnamed narrator just wants to buy some drugs from Billy Socrates and get high. But Billy passes out and his sidekick, Avé, relays Billy’s philosophy of cheese. We wouldn’t want to give anything away—it is very short and the philosophy makes for an interesting idea—but, when the narrator and Avé decide Billy isn’t going to wake up, they decide to give him a proper send-off. Day conveys a lot in so very few words, and keeps it entertaining.

Ever Miroir is a private investigator and the protagonist in ‘Shadows in the Old City’, a futuristic noir tale set in 3194 “New Paris”, a city built upon the toxic ruins of Old Paris. Ever left the police force to set up her agency when she became disillusioned with the idea of working alongside humanoid robots. In true noir fashion, Ever finds herself in the middle of something much bigger than she can imagine, and it threatens to be the death of her. Dangerous performance-enhancing supplements, corporate espionage, body modification. One of the longer stories in the collection, but it packs quite a punch. Science fiction on the surface but, as is often the case with Day’s work, he also examines deeper questions such as mortality and human relationships.

After the science fiction taste of the previous story, ‘That Trick with the Salt’ brings us right back to creepy, atmospheric horror. Sisters Jill and Jennifer arrive at the home of their Aunt Alice who passed away in the early hours of the morning. With both coroner and funeral director out of town until later that day, the sisters are forced to wait with the body. But, thanks to family gossip, they’ve always suspected their Aunt was no ordinary woman, something reinforced for Jill when she enters the house and encounters elderly neighbour Mathilda. The dialogue between the sisters is brilliant, exactly how it would sound in life, and the topic of the mysterious Aunt while knowing her body is in the house is very unnerving. Day builds the dread beautifully.

‘Pollyanna’ is the world’s first “interactive” erotic video game. The story begins with an unnamed protagonist watching from his van when two men in the long queue to buy the game get into a heated argument and a knife is drawn. When one man is seriously wounded, the protagonist offers his van as a refuge. But he is no ordinary man, and his van is lined with plastic sheets. It is an entertaining and bloody little story about obsession and desire, and the lengths some will go to to fulfil their hunger. And the consequences the addict must face.

‘Scavengers’ is a hard story to label, as it doesn’t fall into horror or science fiction or any other genre, really. Perhaps slice of life or, maybe more appropriate, slice of death. During a father-son bonding trip to their cabin, Daniel Wetmore suffers a heart attack during the night and it is up to grown-up son Martin to solve the problem of delivering the body to town, given the terrible snowstorm they are experiencing. What follows is Martin’s brief introspection while pulling the body behind a borrowed horse and, eventually, a deep and heartfelt discussion with his mother. The dialogue between family members, as demonstrated in earlier stories as well, is so engaging and true-to-life. Another example of the broad spectrum of Day’s storytelling abilities.

‘Who Will Survive and What Will be Left of Them’ opens with a snowstorm in Los Angeles which has a negative effect on business at a local video store. When one of the regulars stumbles into the store, covered in blood and at death’s door, the employees, unable to contact emergency services, decide to follow the trail of blood to discover the nature of his injuries. But what they find is the home of a movie director who specialises in the hardcore horror genre and who likes to hold private screenings. The Video Hut employees soon discover the secret behind the realism of the special effects in the director’s movies. The blood flows freely in this entertaining and fast-paced horror story.

‘The God of Easy Money’ tells the story of a group of opportunistic wannabe criminals who believe they have discovered the perfect crime. No-one is supposed to get hurt, and they’ll get rich. All they have to do is kidnap the son of a rich doctor and rough up the mother to show they’re serious. But desperate people make poor decisions. Another of the shorter stories in the collection, but it is packed with so much action and drama.

Day closes the collection with ‘Elephants’, a story that first appeared in the bizarro anthology More Bizarro Than Bizarro (Bizarro Pulp Press, 2017). Despite its bizarro framework (the family pets frequently offer their opinions and walking talking elephants live alongside humans) the central story is one of real-life drama. “The woman”, as she is referred to throughout the story, learns that she is pregnant, but decides that she doesn’t want to have the baby. What follows is a car journey to the abortionarium with partner Peter and their two pets during which they discuss their differing opinions of elephants (driven by the news of an escaped dangerous elephant) and Peter’s recounting of his own story. A story very different to the rest of the collection but which only serves to show the depth of Day’s abilities.

While the stories of his first collection are firmly rooted in the horror genre, there are certainly examples within this collection that he is more than happy to spread his literary wings and play in any genre. These stories exemplify his storytelling strengths, from great dialogue and wonderful character development (signs of a keen observer of human nature) to a seemingly effortless ability to spin a great yarn. Of course, as most writers would tell us, the more effortless it seems, the more work the author has put into their craft. Here we have further proof—as if any were needed—that Nicholas Day can write on any topic, and about any subject, and can completely enthral his audience. His reputation as a well-rounded author of tremendous ability is only growing with every publication, and the future is surely bright for Nicholas Day, and fans of his work.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: JournalStone
eBook: 192 pp
Release Date: 26 April 2019

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