*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*
A businessman outside the house at two in the morning made sense in the city, but William lived in the country, and that made the passerby ever so curious. William parted the curtains slowly, just enough to avoid attention, and breathed through his nose to lessen the condensation on the window. As the man passed the streetlamp, a purple tinge highlighted his suit, and his gait was that of an elderly man with the skin to match. Like a raisin wearing a dollar store three-piece once owned by a pimp.
The gentleman paused at the mailbox, and William held his breath, letting the blinds fall to a slit. And yet, the businessman (if he could be called such – William imagined that cheap looking briefcase contained blank A4s and half-eaten apple cores opposed to actual documents and contracts) paused and stared at the house.
William cocked his head, frozen. If the man approached his home, should he rush out and meet him halfway, just in case? But just in case what? The odd timing and strange location surely weren’t enough to justify thoughts of danger, were they? Besides, the man looked old enough to fall asleep standing up, never mind getting a punch to the face. Oh, and that face, like a peanut dropped and covered in fluff from the underbelly of a couch. Still, the gentleman stared at William’s home, and as he did, his shriveled lips curled into a grin.
Gooseflesh crawled along William’s arms.
William plucked the letter and worked his nail along the seal, greeted by the subtle scent of perfume. He made his way back to the living room and fell onto the couch, throwing away the envelope as he shook out the paper.
Dearest William. I’d like to talk to you about our Lord and Savior – Philip. Seven AM, today. I’ll see you shortly, and I should hope for decaf.
A collection of no less than twenty stories, including the Irish Short Story of the Year-nominated ‘Intercepting Aisle Nine’, Various States of Decay moves steps comfortably from stories of advertisements invading our dreams, Irish folklore in a modern setting, killer furniture, and the horrors of an early morning Dart journey. Dealing with themes of grief, shame, loss of reality and the overwhelming fear of not being believed, this is a collection that any reader can find themselves in.
First of all, can’t stop staring at that cover design, the colours, the subtle details, and the fact that the upside down bleeding reality of it fits the collection it contains so well. Also, I just fucking love trees.
There are a few stories in particular that stood out in this collection for me for a variety of reasons. One story that gave me a bit of a Hellboy vibe was Rodent in the Red Room, a story that brings some Irish folklore to a modern world and one I personally hadn’t heard of before but was thoroughly unsettling in it’s insidious nature. Another was titled Knock, Knock simply for the bizarre absurdity of it – a businessman shows up at your countryside home at 2am to preach the word of… Philip? Already terrifying.
The stories in this collection are not repetitive but there are similarities in theme and tone, much needed and often overlooked when putting a collection together. There’s also a few that seem to be linked by a single corporate giant that isn’t exactly ethical. But each story stands on its own, complete and satisfying, and most of all memorable.
In the foreword written by Kelli Owen she states that Hayward’s strengths lie in his settings and I would have to agree with that. You never dip your toe in a Hayward story, you plunge flat footed into the deep waters of whatever world he wants you to be in. From dystopian futures to only slightly left-field modern day Ireland, you are right there with the characters and the reality that they can see melting right in front of their eyes.
But Hayward is far from a one-trick pony and though his settings are enthralling, his characters are the anchors that really hold you in the story. Gritty, emotional, and flawed, the protagonists of Hayward’s stories are too real not to be believed. Tired, worried, confused, and in various states of pain as we all are, you get locked into their journeys with them unable to change the trajectory but also unable to look away from the drop there are about to barrel over. All you can do is thank the gods that it isn’t you.
Various States of Decay is a generously thick volume of stories that explore the nature of fear and what it’s like to have your reality turned absolutely upside down. With universal themes of loss, confusion, and the naïve belief that reality is fixed and immutable, Hayward’s writing brings the reader down inexorable paths to devastating ends. For such a long collection I can’t say that there was a miss in the lot, and I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of this today.
About the Author –
Matt Hayward is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated horror author and musician from Ireland. You can find Hayward on Twitter at @MattHaywardIRE and can find his books online at the usual places, I would recommend giving him a go.
Links to Buy and Review –
What’s your favourite short story collection? What’s more important to you as a reader enthralling setting or relatable characters?