I was drawn to Roland Allnach‘s short story collection Oddities & Entities primarily because of the name. The author was an unknown quantity to me, and the cover – a generic night photo of the ocean in the moonlight – didn’t exactly reel me in. But that title made me think of those old carnival sideshows, always good for a cheap, colorful thrill even if they didn’t exactly deliver on the promises the barker made in an effort to lure people in. After reading that Allnach spent 20 years working a hospital night shift, and that his work there had influenced the fiction in his book, I figured it was worth giving the collection a shot. I worked the night shift at a hospital too, once upon a time, and I know the kinds of things you see there.
I’m glad I gave it a shot, because Allnach has serious writing chops, and he’s pulled together a strong collection in Oddities & Entities. Better yet, it’s not a group of cheap sideshow thrills (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but a dark, often surreal journey into the underbelly of the world – a place we like to pretend isn’t there, even though we know deep down it’s dancing just out of arm’s reach.
As I said before, I went into this book cold, completely unfamiliar with Allnach and his work, and I think that enhanced my reading experience. For that reason, I’m not going to throw together a plot synopsis for each story. I’d rather you jump in cold like I did (and I’m sure Allnach would feel the same way). I will, however, get a little bit into the first story, because “Boneview” sets a strong tone for the rest of the book and is a good representative of what follows.
“Boneview” is about a girl with a guardian angel of sorts, a strange creature she calls The Curmudgeon who begins visiting her when she’s just an infant. Because she’s known him all her life, it never seems odd to her, even as she grows older, that this skeletal creature with the clicking, clacking fingers phases through walls to visit her at night. He is with her during a lonely, isolated childhood, and at one point he even saves her life. But when she finds peace and balance in her life with a man she grows to love, The Curmudgeon’s visits come to a halt. It seems he’s gone for good – until he reappears just as she gets some good news, seeking a reward for saving her life.
Allnach paints a riveting portrait of a girl’s life here, and the amazing thing is that he grounds it in reality despite elements like The Curmudgeon and Allison’s ability to “see” how and when a person is going to die. It’s a captivating story, made all the more so by the original twists Allnach puts on some classic horror tropes.
In Oddities & Entities, Allnach combines his natural curiosity and powers of observation with a strong voice to produce a solid, compelling story collection. The book is available now from All Things That Matter Press.