Thursday, August 16, 2012

We Live Inside You by Jeremy Robert Johnson

We Live Inside YouI first heard about Jeremy Robert Johnson (JRJ) from Girl on Demand's POD-dy Mouth blog back in 2006. Her enthusiastic review of his short story collection, Angel Dust Apocalypse, led me to my first indie book purchase. I was not disappointed.

After writing two short novels, Siren Promised (co-written with Alan Clark and nominated for a Bram Stoker award) and The Extinction Journals, he focused on his publishing company, Swallowdown Press. Unlike most indie authors who form a publishing company under false pretense of being anything other than a vehicle for the author's own work, JRJ actually publishes the work of other indie authors that he enjoys (Forrest Armstrong, J. David Osborne, and Cody Goodfellow to name a few). We Live Inside You is JRJ's second short story collection, featuring his work published between 2006 and 2011. When I found out that JRJ finally got around to publishing another collection of his short stories, I had to pick up a copy.

From the cover it would be easy to dismiss We Live Inside You as a collection of parasitic body horror. But that would be a big mistake. Yes, there are three stories in which parasites appear but only in one of them, "When Susurrus Stirs", is it the focus of the story. In the other two, "Cathedral Mother" and "Laws of Virulence", the parasite's presence is secondary, a means to an end. The former is the story of how a young woman went from free love hippie to hardened anti-human ecoterrorist. The latter is the confession of how a guy who couldn't quit partying screwed up his last chance to salvage his marriage.

We Live Inside You is really about the emotions, needs, and ideologies that drive us and rule our lives. And in these stories they typically lead to terrible outcomes. The loneliness of a socially awkward orphan turns him into a thrill seeking cat burglar ("Persistence Hunting"). A father's mounting healthcare bills drive a daughter to stealing from drug dealers ("The Gravity of Benham Falls"). Ashamed of his father's weakness for alcohol, a young man joins a survivalist cult that believes the weak need to be culled from the human race ("Trigger Variation"). How people deal with the loss of a loved one is explored in "The Encore" and "States of Glass". A car accident doesn't faze a social Darwinist in "Consumerism". In fact, it solidifies his ideology. Tired of human suffering, a group of Buddhist monks decide to impose Nirvana (the state of mind, not the band) on the human race ("The Oarsman").

I'm trying not to spoil these stories for you. I couldn't even write anything about the emotional pain that lies in "Cortical Reorganization" without giving the story away. I'm trying to show that JRJ didn't write a bunch gross out stories; but the emotional monsters he throws at you are, in their own way, just as horrific as the physical ones burrowing underneath your skin.

We Live Inside You is available through Amazon.

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