Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape by Joshua Chaplinsky
CLASH Books (October 2019)
185 pages; $13.95 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann
It’s this reader’s opinion that short story collections are the best way to read a new author. It’s the quickest way to discover an author’s versatility; each story an opportunity to showcase a variety of unique skills without being locked into one narrative.
I also believe that a reader begins their relationship with a book with the cover. In this case, primate skulls in bold, appealing colors with a recognizable Matthew Revert style. A real winner for me. A cover-buy.
“Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape” is a weird, memorable, and intriguing title. What a clever first impression because it speaks to exactly what the reader will experience while reading these stories.
The first story, “Letters to the Purple Satin Killer,” is straight up brilliant. I’m not going to mince words. The style is confident, almost cocksure, commanding the reader’s attention and establishing authority. An epistolary story told by women writing letters to a convicted murderer. Definitely one of those short stories where I could have read a few hundred pages more of what Chaplinsky was giving out. There was a lot going on in those letters.
From that story on into the next dozen, it’s clear that Chaplinsky is comfortable writing in multiple different styles, formats, and points-of-view. As a whole, Whispers is a neon sign of where Chaplinsky is going as an author, and an invitation to readers who want to follow him there.
The stories range from traditional storytelling to something a little more atypical to downright strange.
The collection’s last story is another one I want to mention. In high school, if you bummed a ride from a buddy, it was common to hear the saying, “ass, gas or grass,” suggesting that the driver would take any of those three things as compensation for driving you around. Chaplinsky wrote a short story based on this saying and I will never, ever, NEVER, unsee it or not think of “nobody rides for free” if I hear that classic saying again. I was on the edge of my seat and if I wasn’t holding my Kindle, fervently reading, I would have bitten my nails down to the quick. Heart-pounding, nerve-wracking horror and the perfect ending to a pretty tight collection of stories. I recommend this one to fans who want to dive deeper into fresh, bizarro, experimental horror and a change of pace.