People are Strange
by James Newman
A talking bug who may or may not be our sixteenth President reincarnated…a beloved grandfather with a terrible secret…a man who takes “coveting they neighbor’s wife” to a horrifying new low…a community composed of sadists and serial killers…two smiling men in ties carrying the word of God and a straight razor…
You’ll meet all of these and more in People Are Strange, an eclectic compilation of short fiction by James Newman. People Are Strange is a collection of tales that are as weirdly humorous as they are disturbing, stories that will make you laugh even as you shudder. (Goodreads)
I haven’t read any James Newman before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I admit, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it when I first started reading. The language in the opening story is a little vulgar for my taste, and I wasn’t sure I could put up with that for an entire novel. Good thing I kept reading, though, because it gets much better from there! Though each story is entirely different from the last, they all share a similar theme. As Newman himself puts it, it’s a “little collection of stories about the scariest monster of all: ourselves!”
The descriptions and imaginative stories Newman develops pulled me right in. He loves to delve deep into the human psyche, giving the reader doubt as to what’s real and what’s all in your head. Each story takes you for a crazy ride, often dropping you off nowhere near where you expected to land. There are twists within twists that provide a sense of excitement and, more times than not, shock and disgust. The endings are often ambiguous, leaving you wanting more just to find out what really happened. Did he actually kill him? Was it really all pretend? How did it play out after those final words? I need more! Importantly, these moments aren’t just cliff-hangers. Though they do end on a “gimme gimme more” note, the stories still have excellent, satisfying endings. I’ve noticed a lot of short story authors (I’ve been reading a lot of short story collections lately) often have problems with endings, and their stories tend to just… stop, rather than end. This isn’t the case at all with Newman, so mega props to him for that!
Newman also excels at adopting different language and style and voice for each story he tells. Whether he’s writing about insanity or cowboys or illiterate wives, we get just that with his stories. It gives a nice change from story to story, and it definitely helps keep the interest peaked.
There’s also quite a lot of flash fiction in this collection, which I was pretty excited about. I recently wrote my first piece of flash fiction and absolutely fell in love with the genre. I haven’t seen much in my reading experience, so it’s refreshing to see such fiction in a short story collection, and Newman certainly excels at it.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I got more into Newman’s writing with each story, and I’m definitely interested in reading more of his works in the future. If you’re into horror/mystery/suspense, I’d suggest checking him out! He was nice enough to send a copy of this collection to me to review, so thanks so much for the opportunity, James! Check him out on Instagram: @namwensemaj