The Half-Freaks by Nicole Cushing
Grimscribe Press (November 2019)
122 pages; $15 paperback; $9 e-book
Reviewed by Kevin Lucia
It’s amazing — and, somewhat depressing — to consider that, even if you’re a prodigious reader, there will always be more books to read than there are hours and days in a year. I try to console myself with that fact when I keep hearing about this author I should read, or that author, especially when they’re authors I’ve been meaning to read for years. So, when Nicole Cushing’s The Half-Freaks fell into my hands, I took the chance to finally read something by an author I’ve been “meaning to read” for years.
I wasn’t disappointed, and it’s a pretty sure guarantee I’ll be seeking out more of Nicole’s work in the future. The Half-Freaks is a surreal, dreadful fever-dream fantasy about a man ill-equipped to deal with (well, just about anything) the unexpected tragedies which inevitably come our way in this often nightmarish and skewed carousel ride we call “life.”
In this case, it’s the death of Harry Meyers’ mother, which leaves him adrift and cut off from his last tether to reality. Caught in the grip of paranoia, sexual fantasy, and the belief that reality itself is fraying around the edges (being destroyed bit-by-bit by sub-human creatures he calls “half-freaks”), Meyers blunders through his mother’s funeral arrangements and life-insurance settlements with the false bravado of a “working man” who believes the world is bent on his eventual destruction. And, oh yeah, there’s those “half-freaks” he keeps seeing at grocery stores and out on the streets. Human beings put together just a little bit “wrong,” who are causing cosmic damage to reality with every move they make.
Cushing tells this brief tale from a wonderfully meta-fictional perspective which also offers a commentary on the nature of story-telling, and how our own characters can take on a life of their own, and exist well past the end of their “story.” And here’s what I liked most: in some ways, The Half-Freaks is a little reminiscent of Thomas Ligotti’s work, but it was still enjoyable to read. Though I appreciate Ligotti’s talent and his prose, I never could get past the absolutely soul-crushing existential despair I felt when reading his stories. There’s none of that here in The Half-Freaks. There’s some gallows humor, to be sure, and Harry Meyers is a pathetic archetype that unfortunately rings true, but Cushing manages to present him in a way which elicits a weird kind of sympathy. It’s a unique “weird voice,” one which I plan on exploring further.