Book Review: Stag In Flight by S.P. Miskowski

“Overall, Stag In Flight is a fantastic achievement, a tightly written and surprising story that perfectly suits the chapbook format.”

Stag In Flight Since the release of her debut novel Knock Knock in 2011, S.P. Miskowski has been busy making a name for herself in horror fiction. Her work is dark, literate and character driven, reflecting her background as an award-winning playwright. Her latest release, the chapbook Stag In Flight, shares this tight focus on character, whilst also being a departure from the rural horror of the Skillute Cycle.

The central character of Stag In Flight is Benny, a man who lives by routines, and struggles to leave his apartment without worrying himself sick about what might occur in the outside world. His life is one of voluntary isolation, fleeing contact even from the other occupants of his apartment complex. The story opens with Benny daring to go and check his mailbox for letters; a chance encounter with one of his neighbours leads to Benny agreeing to attend some sessions with a therapist, Dot Dougherty. Which means Benny has to venture outside…

At first, the source of unease in this story comes from the author’s deft and sympathetic depiction of Benny’s illness and the barely controlled terror he feels walking the streets or having to catch a bus. From Benny’s point of view, the urban setting seems a place of threat and menace. But there’s more going on here than there first appears, and it’s a testament to Miskowski’s skills that even in a short work like this she manages to wrong-foot the reader several times.

The stag beetle of the title appears about halfway through, trapped inside the Dot’s office while Benny is undergoing therapy. The fact the insect in question is a beetle is significant, because the seemingly trivial incident triggers a metamorphosis in Benny. And it’s not just he who undergoes a transformation but the story, as a largely realistic tale becomes something more surreal, rich and transgressive. The allusions to Kafka are cleverly handled, suggestive without being derivative. From here on in, the story gets darker and darker

Overall, Stag In Flight is a fantastic achievement, a tightly written and surprising story that perfectly suits the chapbook format. It’s yet another triumph for Miskowski, as well as for Dim Shores Press, a relatively new publisher who’ve been around just over a year. The chapbook itself is beautifully designed, with cover art and interior illustrations by Nick Gucker.

JAMES EVERINGTON

Publisher: Dim Shores
Chapbook (42pp)
Release Date: 30 April 2016

Buy Stag In Flight by S.P. Miskowski

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