When Danny was fourteen, his mother and sister disappeared during a violent storm. The police were baffled. There were no clues, and most people figured they were dead. Only Danny still holds out hope that they’ll return. Months later, a disheveled Vietnam vet named Walter Pike shows up at Danny’s front door, claiming to know their whereabouts. The story he tells is so incredible that Danny knows he shouldn’t believe him. Others warn him about Walter Pike’s dark past, his shameful flight from town years ago, and the suspicious timing of his return. But he’s Danny’s last hope, and Danny needs to believe…

Having read an intriguing review of The Year of The Storm by Chris Irvin at HouseLeagueFiction.com*, I was delighted to also be approached by John Mantooth to read and review his book. As regular visitors to my blog know my other great passion in terms of reading is American fiction, so very much in the vein of Michael Koryta, Wiley Cash and Tom Franklin, TheYear of the Storm,  not only conforms to the tenets of contemporary American fiction, but also manifests itself as a seamless fusion of crime inflected with a tinge of the supernatural.

This is a beautifully controlled piece of prose which struck me as a very powerful examination of the validity of memory, as adult Danny looks back on the distressing and ultimately life forming events of his early teens through therapy.  There is almost a gauze-like effect to the prose, as the text is imbibed with references to how reliable memory is, not only on the part of Danny, but also of grizzled Vietnam vet Walter, whose interaction and relationship with Danny form the heart of the book. Walter acts as a kind of shadow puppet to Danny, as both have experienced traumatic events in their formative years, and the sanity of both seems to rely on the symbiotic nature of their relationship as their insecurities and fears come to light. The role of memory and reality looms large throughout, cleverly playing tricks on the characters and our perception as readers, as to the inherent truth of these men’s lives, and the events that have shaped them.

As is my usual habit, I will not refer too much to the plot as the multi-layered feel to this book and some pretty startling reveals are yours to discover with as much pleasure as I did. What I will say though, is that as the events of both protagonists past and present come to light, Mantooth addresses some incredibly powerful issues throughout the book that are brought to light by the characters’ closest personal relationships- grief, family, isolation, addiction, abuse,  homophobia, Asperger’s and the ties that bind humans together under pressure and in unlikely circumstances. However, due to the skilful control of Mantooth’s prose, these seem somehow understated making them resonate more powerfully in the lyrical intensity of the prose- you are not assailed by them and the gradual introduction of them in certain contexts make them all the more affecting.  The story is compelling and thought-provoking in the truest form of the Southern Gothic genre, with a feel of impending violence threatening to consume those in its shadow at any moment, and the tension is palpable throughout but with the overarching confusion of what is real and what is imagined. This is not only beautifully written and engaging, but having finished reading it a few days ago, I find I keep thinking about certain scenes from time to time, which in my book is evidence of a thoroughly good read to remain in my consciousness. The Year of the Storm is a  rare find indeed.

John Mantooth is an award-winning author whose short stories have been recognized in numerous year’s best anthologies. His short fiction has been published in Fantasy Magazine, Crime Factory, Thuglit, and the Stoker winning anthology, Haunted Legends (Tor, 2010), among others. He’s represented by Beth Fleisher of Clear Sailing Creatives, and he’s a founding member of the semi-notorious writing group Snutch Labs. His first book, Shoebox Train Wreck, was released in March of 2012 from Chizine Publications. His debut novel, The Year of the Storm, is slated for a June 2013 release from Berkley. He lives in Alabama with his wife, Becky, and two children. Visit his website at http://www.shoeboxtrainwreck.com

*Read Chris Irvin’s review here: http://houseleaguefiction.com

If you like short stories in the vein of Frank Bill, Ron Rash et al I would definitely recommend this collection as well. In terms of characters, a true mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, but most notably a vivid exploration of  fundamental human experience through their lives and interactions with others.

Product DetailsThese sixteen genre-bending stories are set against a backdrop of sudden violence and profound regret, populated by characters whose circumstances and longings drive them to the point of no return . . . and sometimes even further. A young girl takes a journey to see what is really hidden within the belly of an ancient water tower. A high school senior learns about defiance on a school bus and witnesses a tragedy that he won’t soon forget. Six survivors in an underground bunker discuss the possibility of Armageddon being an elaborate hoax. Two brothers take a walk on the dark side of the wheat field and discover that some bonds are stronger than death. And in the title story, a former train conductor must confront the ghosts of his past while learning that it’s not the dead who haunt the living, but the other way around. Traversing the back roads of the south and beyond, these stories probe the boundaries of imagination, taking the reader to the fringes of a society where the world looks different, and once you visit, you won’t ever be the same.

(With thanks to John Mantooth for the ARCs of The Year of the Storm and Shoebox Train Wreck)

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