If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a short fiction anthology is the chain that holds the drawbridge to the kingdom of great story telling against the assault of mediocre fiction; thankfully, there is not one weak entry in Exigencies. This may be because Richard Thomas is calling the shots, a writer and editor as talented as he is productive, having already proved himself with The New Black anthology, Exigencies is a daring ride into the best among contemporary neo-noir writers.
The best stories in this anthology are the ones that change your mind, which shows society reflected as it truly is, through storytelling methods – the best stories in this anthology act as iconoclasm for issues that are prevalent in society. Rebecca Jones-Howe’s Cat Calls shows a man in a disintegrating relationship, subject to the verbal harassment that happens to women everyday on the street, every word acting as another method to make our skin crawl with how we are faced with the reality of what we consider acceptable in our society. Usan T Malik’s The Last Manuscript takes us to India, integrating languages other than English in flawed characters with mastery, similar to the works of Junot Diaz – but going beyond that, exploring what it is like to be haunted by memories of our past, from our childhood, and what happens when we carry them into our adulthood. Alex Kane’s Fragile Magic takes us into the surreal, though, in some ways, all of these stories do. A figurine left behind to a child from his mother gives powers to escape the trapped life of a wounded child, showing us what it would be like in those moments of grief as a child when we wished we had powers – and we did.
The Eye Liars is an infection story that doesn’t exist in the world of Hollywood films, but the suburbia that many readers may have grown up in. Not born in a lab but born in difficult circumstances, and it’s all the more thrilling for it. David James Keaton’s A Dull Boy takes the viewpoint of Danny Lloyd, better known as the actor who played Danny Torrance in The Shining. Exploring what it would be like to have the success of the film haunting an adult through their life as they claw at normalcy, Keaton proves himself not just an expert in writing, but also in reimagining popular culture.
In quick succession is Marytza K Rubio’s Brujeria For Beginners, exploring in a unique voice and style what it would be like if the mystic arts were taught in a classroom, far from the fantastical overarching plot developments that exist in young adult fiction. Finally, peeking at us from the last pages the whole time is Axel Taiari’s Blood Price. A fantasy story so well written it is enthralling for the people who don’t like fantasy and a fine addition to the genre for the people that do. Axel Taiari packs a whole world into a short story, never making us feel left out or that we need to know more, doing the perfect job a writer should. The act that he is at the back of the anthology is a tease – like a beautiful person who wants to wait until marriage, but we commit and we wait, because with Taiari, it is worth it every time.
Exigencies is a fantastic anthology. Like the Norton book of literature but for contemporary neo-noir, it showcases some of the best names around, writers who write about the darkness that exists in society, under the surface. It doesn’t give you a flashlight to protect yourself from it, but like holding a candle in a room with no lights and dark corners, you feel safer and warmer knowing that it’s there.
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