As anythinghorror.com gets more and more popular I keep getting more and more requests both from big publishers and indie horror authors to read and review upcoming releases. And like the huge whore that I am I can’t say no. I’m so backed up with novels that my house looks like a Half-Priced Books during inventory. But I keep accepting books because there’s so many talented writers out there and I don’t wanna miss out on a really great read. For example BLEED, by Ed Kurtz. Kurtz contacted me back in early Spring of this year and I’m glad he did. BLEED was an amazing read that combined the best elements of Clive Barker and David Cronenberg (see my review here). Ed Kurtz won’t stay “unknown” for long.
So when Jake Bannerman contacted me about reading his anthology of short stories, THE PITCHFORK DIARIES: VOLUME ONE, I didn’t hesitate. In the sell sheet we’re promised:
[A] collection of short stories and prose unlike anything you have ever read before. Even the darkest and most violent imaginings of your mind cannot come close to matching the horrors contained within.
My initial thought was, “Uh-oh; here we go again. Another writer promising extreme horror that can’t possibly live up to the hype.” I was wrong. Bannerman pushes the envelope and really explores territories that most writers won’t even think of tapping into. But before I go into some of the individual stories, I must point out that calling these ‘short stories’ isn’t exactly accurate. The exact length a short story should be is often debated and changes from publication to publication. In the most general terms, a short story (in contemporary times) often has no more than 20,000 words and is no shorter than 1,000 words. But many of the stories in THE PITCHFORK DIARIES fall, in my estimation, right around or below the 1,000 word mark. Stories under 1,000 words are often referred to as ‘short short fiction’ or ‘flash fiction.‘ At first I found it hard to get into these short short stories, but after reading three of them I realized how amazing they and Bannerman’s writing is.
All of Bannerman’s stories have the classic elements of storytelling: protagonists, antagonists, a climax, etc …, but these elements aren’t always fleshed out and in detail. Often times the central conflict and resolution are ‘unwritten’ and merely hinted at or implied. This allows the reader’s mind to finish the story that Bannerman began. This isn’t to say he leaves the stories with unsatisfying endings; far from it. Bannerman simply weaves some really disturbing tales and let’s the mind of the reader fill in some of the details. And it totally works.
The majority of the stories in THE PITCHFORK DIARIES have some kind of religious and sexual edge to them. Some authors use their writings to work out their conflicted personal views about religion. Bannerman isn’t ‘working’ anything out; he knows exactly what his thoughts are about religion. In his very short story “Born of the Flickering,” Bannerman describes a convent that offers a way for men of all ages to cleanse their soul’s of the sin of pre-marital sex, but which actually condemns them to Hell. This is one of his shorter stories that really packs a punch. Then in “Juden,” we learn the truth of who god really selected as the “Chosen People.” In “The Seed of Abortion” Bannerman explores the radical way the church keeps one young girl from engaging in sex and preventing pregnancy. The ending of this one will make even guys double over, feeling the pain of the lead girl.
But not all of the stories have a religious angle. In “Becoming,” one of the longer stories, we’re told how circuses are lies “bigger than Christianity.” This is the disturbing story of an eleven year old girl raped while at the circus. But the rapist isn’t what they at first appear to be. And just when you think Bannerman has hit the bottom of the barrel in depravity, the story adds one last element at the very end that finds a new bottom. But Bannerman also has something to say in his stories. He brings up big ethical questions in “900 to 1” and “The Guts of Christ;” relates his disgust of reality TV in “Starvin’ Marvin;” and explores the levels of human depravity while examining the relationship between sex and the internet in “To Walk the Path of Maggots.”
And scattered throughout THE PITCHFORK DIARIES, Bannerman has some pretty dark poetry explores everything from apocalyptic visions, death, and everything in between. But perhaps the most shocking story, for me anyway, was the final one in the anthology, “The Stillborn Divine.” In this one we learn the truth of why some babies are stillborn. Yikes; does Bannerman have religious people picketing outside his home 24 hours a day??
THE PITCHFORK DIARIES: VOLUME ONE is a fast read. You’ll eat up Bannerman’s stories and be amazed that he consistently explores areas that most writers stay away from. His unique approach to storytelling will have you thinking about his works long after turning the page on them. THE PITCHFORK DIARIES was released just a few days ago (on September 10, 2011), and you can get the Kindle version here. These stories haven’t been written just so Bannerman can prove how “extreme” he can be. These stories draw their shock and depravity from the content Bannerman is writing about and the message he’s trying to convey. Don’t miss this anthology!!
Author: Jake Bannerman
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls (for overall content)
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer