It is a pleasure to introduce our second Guest Reviewer, Jackie Keller. She is currently a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and her major is Psychology. She hopes to attain her B.S. in said science by the end of the year. When she is not delving into the minds of murderers and lunatics she can be found either either reading horror literature and exploring the underlying emotional processes behind them or sewing the skin from her victims into a human skin suit. We hope to have many more reviews from her in the coming weeks!
Just in time for Halloween, it is my pleasure to present you ravishing readers with my review for the short story collection, Underneath. Underneath is a collection of unique horror tales by author Dan Dewitt. The stories presented are “true” short story length, ranging from 1500 – 4000 words, making it very quick and easy to read. They draw on many themes such as family, marriage, technology, and of course, zombies.
Dewitt switches between first and third person for his different stories, but has an overall realistic style. That is to say, even in third person, the writing style clearly and directly conveys the thoughts and emotions of the characters, even the more “coarse” ones. It’s a good choice for short horror, in my opinion, because it allows the reader to more easily sympathize and empathize with the characters as the tension rises in their respective plots.
That said, the “thought style” presented for nearly all the main characters, as well as many of the supporting ones, tends to be very masculine. I realize that authors tend to write characters more along the lines of their own gender identity, and since Dewitt is male, it is more probable that many of his characters are going to be more masculine. However, this style in which he portrays many of the characters almost makes them blend together – nearly all of them drink and smoke cigars, are tough, even if unsuspecting heroes, protective fathers, etc. Seriously, this guy seems to have a cigar fetish or something, the characters smoke them in at least two or three different stories.
I can’t completely dump on gender representation in Dewitt’s work, though. The only female protagonist in any of the stories is an intriguingly dark character, though here I am mentioning that she is the only female main character. As for the supporting female characters, however, the vast majority of them are smart, strong, definitely capable, and have at least some backstory of their own. One of the only possible exceptions being the character Dahlia in the Father-Daughter Dance story, but let’s just say that she has a… certain physical condition that we can cut her some slack for.
Gender issues aside, I greatly enjoy Dewitt’s style for the way that it plants you right in the character’s heads and hearts. He even still does it well with multiple character perspectives in the book’s final story, Orpheus which is DeWitt’s unique take on the traditional post-zombie-apocalypse tale (and has actually been created into a full-length novel).
Allow me to get back to the Father-Daughter Dance tale for a moment. This story follows one of many emotional trials of a father grieving over his lost daughter. Though Dahlia is arguably presented as a weak female character, the story itself is a strong parable of a parent’s love for a child, and how far a parent can and will go to try to save their child. This story is also one of the only stories that tap into more of a fantasy or “mystical” element. The only other story being How Many Years of Bad Luck Am I Up to, Anyway?. The occult themes in this story are a great style change from many of the more “realist” and contemporary styles of his other stories. It’s also pretty action-packed, and does keep you on the edge of your seat, but in my opinion, the ending falls a little flat. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t skip this one.
Speaking of contemporary style, allow me to finally introduce to you my favorite story in this book, Terror by Text. Yes, it’s a monstrously cheesy title, and the author admits it himself, but don’t let that turn you away! The protagonist of this story is a sort of horror blogger who tells the story of his trip to an abandoned hospital entirely through a series of Tweets. You’re probably thinking, “Oh God, a story out of Tweets? What trend is this guy trying to latch onto?” And hell, even one reviewer on Amazon was reduced to bibliophilic tears, bemoaning what literature has become. Ignore your initial inclinations, and definitely ignore bibliophile snobs. Anyway, our protagonist uses Tweets to document his haunting hospital tour, as well as an encounter with a strange, evil online figure who isn’t exactly a welcome commentator. What is it about the Tweet-style that makes this story the scariest, in my opinion? I’ll be honest, I’m not certain. It probably does have to do with the fact that I am a generation Y kid, and this story is written in a bite-by-bite style that appeals to my attention span-deficit young mind – or so the elders might tell you. I’ll go ahead and tell you that it’s to do with the fact that it creates a “pace” for the reader to follow. We know where the protagonist is going, how he’s feeling, and how fast the story is going, even at only 140 characters at a time. And yet, that text line length creates not only an “out-of-breath” tone that seems to match the trekking on of the protagonist, it leaves us enough mystery as is necessary in a ghost story, for us to wonder what exactly happened in that particular ward…
Underneath is free for the Kindle on Amazon, and the paperback price is also extremely affordable, so if my review hasn’t piqued your interest enough in Dan Dewitt’s work, the price may as well! Obviously, if you aren’t a horror fan, it’s probably not going to be up your alley no matter what. But if you like mystery, a bit of the occult, contemporary drama, or even just zombies, I highly recommend getting this book, especially now that we’re entering the haunting season.