Wednesday, May 20, 2015

[Review] The Lives We Fear by Dan Otsuki

I’ll be honest when I first opened up the book, I was thinking horror in the sense of blood, guts, and gore. There were going to be monsters and harrowing escapes. That was not what I got. What I got was a well-written tale or two about horror of another kind. More psychological. I won’t say which is better because I enjoy both rather equally. Of the stories offered, I find myself gravitating toward two the most. “A Day in the Future” considers what it would be like to be able to see a day in the future and how that could affect those you love and “Mister Jackson Monroe” deals with time travel. I’m beginning to see a theme in what I picked out. First let’s talk about “A Day in the Future”.

The short story “A Day in the Future” begins with the female lead sitting at a Super Bowl game she has bet on. She bets on sporting events and plays poker for her living. It also introduces us to Marco who will become more interesting later, but for the moment, he is just a meathead there to give us someone for Kayla to work on. What Marco doesn’t know is that Kayla has already seen the outcome of the game, she knows not quite exactly what is going to happen, but close enough. It makes it easy for her to win money off of him. This is followed by Kayla considering what she is going to do. There is a very important conversation she intends to have with her boyfriend, Toby, the male lead and for once she isn’t looking ahead to see what the conversation will be like. It’s quite noble of her really to want to experience the conversation straight through the first time with him, when she could easily see ahead and pick out what would be the best things to say. The conversation goes well. Now, Toby, who was previously kept in the dark, knows about her gift and what she can do. Of course, he’s curious. The beginning of the downward spiral begins the first time he asks Kayla to see his future. He is exhilarated by the fact that the gift has made it so easy. Of course, it makes things easy, it’s a little bit like cheating life. The problem is you can only cheat for so long before something goes wrong. The something is Toby’s project having major setbacks and him resigning from his position. Now he’s unemployed and needier than ever. He begins to rely on Kayla for everything, all the while she is getting more and more frustrated at being treated like a crystal ball. In her mind, he has become less than a person because he can’t think or do for himself any longer, he waits on her to tell him his every move. I can’t even begin to imagine how far gone one has to be to give up all autonomy in favor of a seemingly sure thing, but that’s what he does. Kayla becomes so frustrated, she runs off to Atlantic City, another fabulous gambling town so she can get some time away and maybe force him to become his own man again. I don’t want to give away the ending, but Marco reappears in the story and things spiral further out of control.

All in all, it is a wonderful story about the human spirit and the depths it can sink to if given the right stimulus. The horror is in Toby’s condition as he deteriorates into a near mindless infant in the face of knowledge of the future. Like I said, I can’t imagine falling that far, but my sense of independence is different. I would fight tooth and nail to make Kayla wrong about my future rather than passively accepting her word as some kind of holy writ. But then, I’m not Toby.

“Mister Jackson Monroe” is another story where horror isn’t the first thing I would think about it. Chilling perhaps slightly in the way that the Twilight Zone could occasionally be chilling, but it was more of a science fiction story than a horror story. Maybe I was just drawn to things that departed from the traditional horror genre once I started reading Otsuki’s work. In “Monroe” we start out with a happy, beautiful couple who are spending the day together and then the husband, Jackson, goes out to get food for dinner. He is assaulted in the parking lot by a younger man, Daniel, who is in love with Jackson’s wife, Ali. There’s a gun brandished. Then we are sent back in time to the first meeting between Jackson and Daniel, orchestrated by Ali, years earlier. Now we are following Daniel’s perspective and he is hopelessly in love with Ali. That reality will inform a number of the choices he will make throughout the story. Daniel sees Jackson as a rival and not even a very good one. Jackson might be older and seemingly sophisticated, but he can’t be as perfect for Ali as Daniel thinks he is.

Daniel has it all figured out for a college kid. He knows exactly where he’s going to work and what he’s going to do. Jackson is just a bar owner who happens to have Daniel’s dream girl. Daniel is obsessed. Not just with Ali but also with his work, a project that will allow time travel. It is to the work that he loses his only friend, Paul, who has tried to be a stabilizing force for Daniel’s life. When Paul is killed in a work accident, Daniel is set adrift without a friend and without his work. He begins to drink heavily, which is a terrible answer to how to cope. Finally, lost in a fugue of alcohol and self-pity, he goes to buy a gun. When he sees Jackson in the parking lot of the grocery store, he jumps out of his car and brandishes the gun at him, which brings us back to a very early scene in the story. The standoff only lasts moments. Again, I won’t spoil the ending, but that moment changes everything that comes after it because it brings Daniel to an even lower place where he makes a desperate choice.

Was I disappointed that there wasn’t more blood in the stories by Dan Otsuki? No, not really. Reading them for what they are, they are fine stories. They each have an element of suspense and some even reach for horror in a different way. I would give it a 5 Star rating for the read through. I’ll be looking for more of his work in the future.

This has been an Elite Book Promotion Review. Review copy was provided for the purposes of writing the review.

1 comment:

Vidya Ravi said...

Thank you for hosting Dan on your blog and thanks for the amazing review.