Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Three Twisted Stories by Karin Slaughter Review


I had Karin Slaughter pegged as one of those novelists who writes police procedurals with extremely detailed autopsy scenes that are inexplicably popular (Patricia Cornwell, Mo Hayder, that sort of thing). That’s why I stayed away from her writing but on a whim decided to give her a shot with this collection of three short stories. I’m so glad I did because I was blown away! She is nothing like that (at least going by these stories)! 

The first of the stories is Go Deep which is set in the 1970s. Seedy car salesman Charlie Lam runs over a homeless black man - and his life becomes inexplicably stranger afterwards. 

Slaughter sets the gritty tone straight away - Charlie’s a nasty piece of work who’s in with the mob and treats women like objects. It’s unpleasant material but I thought I knew what Slaughter was all about. This wasn’t a police procedural but it was a grimy street story with plenty of violence, sex, corruption, and so on. 

And then it goes in a completely unpredictable direction, almost turning into a comedic fairy tale! 

Whaaat?!

It was such a weird transition and massive tonal shift - but oddly not awkward at all - that I decided not to try and second guess Slaughter and let the stories wash over me instead. Slaughter turns Charlie Lam’s life into a farce with one genuinely funny scene towards the end. Fantastic stuff. 

Necessary Women is the darkest story here and goes for pure, chilling, understated horror - and achieves it. It’s the kind of story where describing the setup is almost giving away part of the surprise so I’ll just say our narrator is a teen girl in the rural south (though already some of you have gotten an idea of what that could mean just from that - it gets worse than what you’re imagining).

The story is a masterclass in tense mystery writing, slowly revealing itself right up until the final sentence when you get to see the whole thing and finally come to understand (sort of) the mind of our narrator. And when you look back, you realise the story itself is twisted and dark but kinda straightforward - it’s Slaughter’s telling of the story that turns it into such a gem. Again, really solid writing.

Remmy Rothstein Toes the Line is the final story and was the most awkward to get into but, by the end, might’ve been my favourite of the three. Slaughter switches gears again, this time shooting for nothing but comedy. The story takes the form of email correspondence from Mindy Patel, a Guinness World Records Adjudicator, who’s visiting the swamps of South Georgia to meet Remmy Rothstein, an African-American Jewish Albino, who claims to have the longest tongue in the world. 

The email format with its many footnotes was annoying at first, and the difference in tone, light and chirpy, after the pitch blackness of the last story threw me. But once you settle into the story, it completely wins you over. 

Through the emails we see Mindy’s visit go from bad to worse to worst, with an unexpected twist at the end. The correspondence reminded me of some of George Saunders’ best stories and I lost count of the times I laughed at Mindy’s bizarre trip. You’ll find it extremely funny so long as your sense of humour skews towards the dark and dirty!

Three Twisted Stories is a superbly written collection of incredibly imaginative, completely entertaining short stories that blew my hair back each time. Every one of the narrators’ voices was unique and different from one another and utterly convincing. Each story grabbed my attention and drew me into its world. 

I now get why this writer is so popular and, while this was my first experience with Karin Slaughter, it’s definitely not going to be my last. Three Twisted Stories is first class fiction - highly recommended!

Three Twisted Stories

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