The stories in “Fugue State” will haunt you. Brian Evenson has a remarkable ability to come up with creepy tales that won’t be extracted from your head. For example, take “Invisible Box.” Imagine a girl sleeping with a mime, a mime that’s still dressed up with the gloves and the face paint. During the completely silent sex, the mime draws a box around the two of them, and for days afterwards, the girl can’t shake the feeling that the box still traps her.
Try sleeping on that one.
If the stories were odd in certain genres or patterns, they would be easier to shake, but these are wholly original creations that frighten in unexpected ways. In “Younger,” there’s this horror of a father leaving his two young girls alone with the strict instruction not to answer the door if anyone comes. The way that the unknown knocker knocks traumatizes the younger sister for the rest of her life. There’s nothing intrinsically scary about the storyline itself — it sounds pretty prosaic. But Evenson invests the story with such tension it might as well be vampires and zombies at the door.
The graphic story in this collection, “Dread,” lives up to its name. Illustrated in stark black and white panels, the main character has a schizophrenic struggle after being haunted by a phrase in a unmemorable quality canada pharmacy book: “He no longer resembled me.” The graphic novelist Zak Sally, who drew wonderfully for this story, also created a header for each of the other eighteen stories, but these are too small and too infrequent. A full page graphic for at least some of the stories would be an improvement.
Not all the stories are frightening. If you want a satire of the publishing industry, “Ninety Over Ninety” is hilarious. It’s a spoofed version of “Entourage” for the publishing world. Kossweiller, a hard-working editor at the Entwinkle House, publishes works of literature that don’t sell, and then is routinely hammered and abused by his commercial-fiction-seeking boss, “Cinchy,” who is deathly afraid of dolls. (Entwinkle = Entrekin? You make the call).
The title refers to esoteric tortures “Cinchy” uses to abuse editors who displease him, like making an editor get ninety contracts in ninety days, and then once he got them, ripping them all up in front of him.
Overall, Fugue State is highly readable and highly entertaining (if you don’t mind being freaked out for a week or so). Evenson plays with notions of self and authorhood, while never giving up the emotional core of fear. If I had some kind of star system or a BookFox “Read This!” award, Evenson would get high marks.