Monday, August 20, 2018

“Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs” by Israel Finn – Brief Pictures of Horror

Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs by Israel Finn (Book cover)
Israel Finn has won the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Short Story Competition with his collection titled Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs, containing within twelve dark short stories.

Ranging from a woman being on trial in a world where telling the truth is a crime to a man who finds himself in a surreal nightmare after losing his son, these stories aim to prod the human soul from all possible directions and take us on a journey in the profound recesses of human nature.

Israel Finn's Cacophony of Terror

The genre of horror, in literature just like in movies, lends itself to some interesting studies, especially when tracing its development through time.

What was once considered horrifying has now turned into nothing more than a cliche, and it feels as if boundaries are increasingly difficult to push the further we get into it.

I believe it has come to the point where for most people, horror doesn't really scare them any more as much as it startles, grosses out or makes them feel uneasy.

We rarely find ourselves truly scared by any fictional work, and if we do it's only temporary as we are introduced to rules and familiar elements which engage rather than terrify us.

I believe one of the reasons for this phenomenon is length... in other words, most horror works are far too long for their own good. The best horror stories have always been short and sweet, with an imminent danger at hand and a strong twist at the end; one needs to look no further than Clive Barker and H. P. Lovecraft to witness this philosophy at work.

As such, I was quite interested in Israel Finn's collection of twelve short horror stories titled Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs, which by the way won him the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Short Story Competition.

I want to spoil as little as possible about the twelve stories in this homely little collection, but just to give you an idea of what you'll find, there's one about a woman on trial in a world where telling the truth is a crime, another about an outcast choosing between vengeance and forgiveness, and the tale of a man caught in a nightmare after losing his son.

They are the types of short stories which drop their protagonists in dreadful situations, and through their fates the author explores the dark nooks and crannies of human nature.

Dreams of the Twilight Zone

If the premises for those short stories give you a somewhat familiar feeling inside, then rest assured you're certainly not alone in that. From the very first moments I opened the pages the book gave out a distinct Twilight Zone atmosphere, to the point where I believe every one of those stories could be made into a compelling episode.

There isn't all that much thought given to realism or even context in most cases, focusing mostly on the horror the protagonists are traversing. We are taken to some interesting realms throughout the pages, including some post-apocalyptic and science-fiction future societies which seem to heavily criticize specific aspects of our own.

The most Twilight Zone-esque element comes from the character development of the protagonists. We see them all fighting uphill battles which they don't completely understand, struggling with the world around them as much as the one within them.

We witness them being shaped and molded by the events they endure, and in some cases, we see them grow as human beings, learning some life lessons along the way and sharing their discoveries with us.

While we never learn much about our protagonists and feel like we've just intruded on someone's slice of life, they ended up growing on me and their trials ultimately made me care for people who felt like complete strangers.

There is a very human element to this collection which stays strong from one story to the next, the author taking every opportunity to explore the infinite nuances of human psyche.

Atrocities from Beyond the Wall of Literature

Now I opened this review with a talk about how horror nowadays doesn't truly terrify anymore, but has rather become an entertaining genre for most people.

While I don't think we can ever truly recapture the glory days of when young adults would get nightmarish horrors from silent horror films, I believe this collection of stories comes close to that in a certain way.

The true fear of these stories doesn't come from what terrible fate might befall the characters, but rather the parallels we ultimately draw to our world and ourselves.

While you might not find all the stories relatable, It's a safe bet at least a couple of them will ring true with your experiences and remind you of the horrors which lie in wait for all of us out here in the real world... after all, is any realization more frightful than that of our infinitely frail mortality and how the evil men do snuffs it out so easily? In the end, the truly terrifying elements in these stories are nothing but reflections of ourselves.

This element is tremendously complemented by the author's writing prowess. He knows precisely how to set the mood using a few concise keywords, how to manipulate our expectations and our attention.

Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs by Israel Finn (Book cover)
The pacing is generally rather quick and brutal, to the point where it feels some of the stories are actually ending too soon, but such is the price to pay for never having a boring moment. Finn also has a remarkable knack for depicting tragedies, monsters and virtually any atrocity imaginable.

He really brings out the emotions in scenes of terror, and I won't lie, a couple of them actually felt quite disturbing, even to someone like me who has been into horror since teenage years.

Thankfully, the author knows when to limit himself, and these moments are always brief and powerful, never lingering on for longer than they are welcome.

The Final Verdict

In the end, Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs by Israel Finn is a phenomenal collection of short horror stories which can amuse, frighten, and push into deep thought like very few others.

Its style takes us back to an older and more wholesome time for the horror genre, while the content is aimed at the modern reader and tackles the sorts of topics which will remain timeless.

I highly recommend this collection to any horror fans out there yearning for a breath of fresh air.

Israel Finn

Israel Finn

Personal site

Israel Finn is an author of dark fantasy and speculative fiction works who has, most notably, won the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Short Story Competition with his collection titled Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs. He has also authored the novels Stones , The Present and Deadfall Lane, as well as having recently participated in writing Collected Christmas Horror Shorts alongside many other authors.

1 comment:

  1. 'Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs' is already in my TBR list and your review makes me want to run and read it right now. It is the kind of horror I love.