Disclosure: I was given a free copy of this ARC in exchange for my honest review. The following may contain affiliate links.
Title: Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs
Author: Israel Finn
Release Date: February 23, 2016
Genres: Horror, Anthology, Short Stories
Star Rating: 4/5
Israel Finn’s Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs is a collection of a dozen short stories and vignettes without a framing narrative or theme, but the feel of a classic Twilight Zone or Black Mirror episode brings a cohesiveness to the selections. Broken parents, the inability to come to terms with one’s own choices, and the sudden loss of free will feature several times in the stories.
As with most anthologies, there are a few stories that just didn’t draw me in as much as others—but there are some genres of horror that I enjoy more than others, and I very rarely come across a collection of short stories without one or two that feel less strong than the others to me. But this isn’t due to a failure in Finn’s writing, and his lean, unpretentious style makes even the longer stories a quick read, which kept my enthusiasm and interest high throughout.
In order to keep the review spoiler-free as possible, I decided to give a snapshot of just my three favorite stories, rather than a summary of each one:
“Deadfall Lane” concerns a man who would do anything to keep his son, and the fallout that comes of it.
“The Present” follows a battered wife as she tries to avoid inciting her husband’s rage—especially after it begins to turn toward their teenage daughter.
“Ugly” is a quick, but powerful glimpse into the life of a waitress whose monstrous face attracts bad luck and scorn. This story's plot could easily be the basis for a longer, and extremely interesting, work.
The structure of the anthology is interesting: many stories toward the beginning showcase the ugliness and short sight of humanity, and gradually, stories that include tiny bits of hope, or simple kindnesses toward a stranger, begin to slip their way between them. The end result is that, just as you think you have an idea of what to expect from Finn’s stories, they become more surprising, and the emotional payoff is higher. The book itself also is one of the highest quality self-published books I’ve read. The texture of the book itself is pleasing, and apart from a tiny omission of a word in one sentence, the editing, formatting, and quality of the cover image are extremely professional. I think that the back cover could be more attractive if it were solid red, and used one of the fonts from the front cover, but that’s an extreme nitpick that doesn’t affect my score.
Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs is a solid collection, and more than half of the stories within it I thought were original, clever, and dark enough to make it into a prestige anthology with the big names in horror. With the sense of irony and understanding of dysfunction that shows here, I would love to see Finn take on character-driven stories, and I’d recommend him as a name to watch for fellow genre fans.
Content warnings: domestic violence, gore, bullying, threats/implicit sexual assault, child abuse.
Reviews of horror, nonfiction, and other genres from a life-long lover of books.