Dark Fiction Review – The Whisper Jar by Carole Lanham

The Whisper Jar Book Cover Dark Fiction Author Carole Lanham allowed me the opportunity to preview her upcoming collection of dark fiction short stories titled The Whisper Jar.

From the Publisher

“I do not know what you have done, but put your mouth right here. Confess your crime to this fruit jar as though it were God’s ear.” ~ from The Whisper Jar

Some secrets are kept in jars — others, in books.

Some are left forgotten in musty rooms — others, created in old barns.

Some are brought about by destiny — others, born in blood.

Secrets — they are the hidden heart of this collection. In these pages, you will encounter a Blood Digger who bonds two children irrevocably together; a young woman who learns of her destiny through the random selection of a Bible verse; and a boy whose life begins to reflect the stories he reads…

Most importantly, though, if someone should ever happen to offer you a Jilly Jally Butter Mint, just say “No!”

Review of The Whisper Jar

The Cover

The cover shows a red eye peering through an ornate door/windowframe. This looks great, and a touch unnerving. Definitely fitting for a work of dark fiction, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t more directly related to the title itself.  I would rather have seen a visual of an actual Whisper Jar.

The Content

Overall, there were nine stories

  • The Whisper Jar
  • The Good Part
  • Keepity Keep
  • The Blue Word
  • Maxwell Treat’s Museum of Torture for Young Girls and Boys
  • Friar Garden, Mister Samuel, and the Jilly Jally Butter Mints
  • The Reading Lessons
  • The Adventures of Velvet Honeybone, Girl Werewuff
  • The Forgotten Orphan

The running theme of this collection is secrets, and none of the stories capture this theme more succinctly than the first story/poem, also named The Whisper Jar. This is a riveting story-poem written (in rhyming couplets) about people capturing their secrets in glass jars, and the troubles that follow…   A quick and fun read, this first story definitely piqued my interest in reading the rest of the book.

Another delightful poem/story is The Adventures of Velvet Honeybone, Girl Werewuff  - a short, rhymed couplet that gives a new twist to the classic Red Riding Hood mythos.

The stories Keepity Keep and Friar Garden, Mister Samuel, and the Jilly Jally Butter Mints both have a Brothers Grimm feel to them. Keepity Keep is about a fairy discovered by two brothers.  (Or two brothers discovered by a fairy, if you like.) The contrast of this innocent fairy and these two nearly-innocent brothers is fun to explore. I enjoyed Friar Garden… but it was tough for me to put my finger on exactly what was real in the story and what was imaginary. Actually, I think I enjoyed Friar Garden… because it was tough for me to put my finger on exactly what was real in the story and what was imaginary.

The Good Part is the highlight of the collection for me. A wicked, incestuous story reminiscent of Let Me In but set in the deep South. The story highlights the relationship between coming-of-age teens and coming-of-age vampires.  The Reading Lessons is another awesome addition of teenage angst, lust, and doubt about who-is-really-in-control.  These two stories work so well because Carole’s writing really sells the characters. They are disturbingly real, and so are their actions.

The Blue Word is a post-apocalyptic genre tale with a clever twist. But I don’t want to tell too much here, lest I spoil the surprise. Suffice to say, the story twist in The Blue Word would make this story a  great Twilight Zone episode.

Overall

Carol Lanham’s stories flirt with relationships, sexuality, paranormality, brutality and even reality.  The stories are glimpses into dark places and alternative realities which never go to full-on Horror, but there is at least one implied death.  Plenty of sexuality, but very little actual sex.

The Short Story

The Whisper Jar blends dark and sometimes paranormal situations into the really-real everyday world with clever writing, an Edgar Allen Poe sensibility, and a splash of Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things. Carole Lanham writes in her own carefree but intuitive voice. Audiences will slip into these short stories as easily as they would a warm bath, only to be surprised at how quickly the waters deepen.  Those looking for a variety of dark character studies, whimsical situations and disturbing relationship dynamics will enjoy The Whisper Jar.

The Whisper Jar will be available from Morrigan Books on 31 October 2011.

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Yours Darkly, Conrad Zero