Back Roads and Frontal Lobes
by Brady Allen
A collection of 23 short stories
2012 Post Mordem Press
10/10 Arjays (because nothing is cooler than an Arjay!)
Since September, I’ve been doing a progressive hit-and-run reading through Brady Allen’s premiere collection of short stories. I worked on it in chunks, taking breaks between stories, and also tackling two novels and a holiday collection.
Perhaps because of this approach, more than anything else, my sanity remained intact during the shocking, disturbing, and wonderfully gobsmack-tastic stories presented within (though I suppose some may tell me it’s not as intact as I tell myself, but I digress).
The title promises to take you to dark places, and the collection does not disappoint. Honestly, as a ghost story and sci-fi reader, it goes to darker places than my recreational reading habits are used to. Paranormal romance readers and Twi “LIGHT” readers, consider yourself warned.
I gave this collection my highest rating. That does NOT mean that I absolutely loved everything here without reservation. In my opinion, few readers will fall in love with everything here. I didn’t “get” a couple of stories. Others crossed into the realm of “too much.” But I loved most of it, and more to the point, I love the ambition of all of it.
You see, this collection defines what the term “edgy” storyteller really means.
If there is one overused, abused, and burdened word in all of modern horror, it’s “edgy.” Though kicked around all the time in fallback market-speak (I’ve even used it referring to myself), readers rarely experience a writer truly on the edge.
In this collection, Brady Allen makes 23 attempts to take you somewhere unique and exciting. Someplace you have never gone before. A handful of those times, he won’t quite get there. Most of those times, he will. What Brady will never do is play it safe. Never. And that’s what I admire about even the attempts that fall short. Even when I read something that falls a little flat, he by-God went for it, doing the narrative equivalent of standing on the high wire hopping on one foot while juggling chainsaws. So even when a chainsaw falls to the ground, you can’t help but salute the attempt. And when he succeeds, it’s even more amazing.
This collection, more than most, relies on what you bring in with with you, but I can say with confidence you will enjoy much from this collection. You may not think as much of the bittersweet ghost story “Small Square of Light” as I did. You may think more of “Devil and Dairy Cow” than I. You may prefer the sci-fi over the horror, you may gravitate toward the rays of hope in some tales or prefer to bask in the tone of impending doom of others.
One thing is clear with every story. Brady loves people. Rednecks, working professionals, rich or poor, the practical and the dreamers, he loves their spirit, even when the shell has cracked and insanity has overwhelmed them, even when society has turned against them, Brady admires people in their everyday struggles, both in the familiar normal or the new normal his sci-fi tales spell out.
He loves the camaraderie in everyday public gatherings. Just try to count the diners, pubs, truck stops, bars, and other similar places. Each one unique, filled with people and their dreams, desires, so many of them beaten down and overwhelmed by their own baggage.
Since it’s my review, I’m obliged to discuss some of my very favorites. And if you’ll pardon the bad pun, your mileage, and opinion, may vary during your own travel of these back roads.
I very much enjoyed the very insane observations of Ned, who thinks he’s got it all together when nothing can be further from the truth in “Not Over Easy”.
I got a huge kick out of the twin tales “Taste of a Heart” and “Burger”, both featuring Rose Holmes, redneck psycho or perhaps something far more sinister.
I loved the trippy psychedelic journey as “Bear Hogan Walks the Sky”.
I dug the Twilight Zone-esque twist of a hapless late-night traveler’s unpleasant stop for gas and snacks at a filing station where “It Lives and Breathes”.
I wept to his blues tales of “Blues Bus to Memphis” and “The Ballad of Mac Johnstone”. Blues Bus, in fact, hits upon a universal truth of any artist trying to pursue their dream. A highlight in the collection that still haunts me today.
I read while peeking between two fingers of my hand during the–for lack of a better term–“Deliverance fiction” setup of in “Sh**s and Giggles”.
“Praying” and “There Are No Hills” are both powerful presentations of perseverance in two possible distopia / post apocalyptic futures.
And more, but that’s enough for this review.
But I wanted to give special kudos to “The ‘Ists After the Apocalypse”, what I feel is the best of the bunch. Part political commentary, part zombie thriller, set in a world populated with fantstically drawn characters and situations, a story which, for me, ended way too soon and could easily be expanded into a larger work. (hint-hint)
Bottom line: Those brave enough to travel Brady Allen’s Back Roads and Frontal Lobes will return much better for it. This collection receives my highest recommendation for those who love dark, edgy horror.