THE GOTHIC SHIFT
BY BRIAN DAVID BRUNS
Narrators: Scott Bennett, Brittany Morgan Williams,
Thomas Stone, Gary Furlong
Length: 9 hours 41 minutes
Publisher: Brian David Bruns
Released: Mar. 31, 2017
Categories: Horror; Short Stories
Winner of the International Book Awards for Best Short Story Collection, The Gothic Shift is a beguiling collection of the macabre and supernatural from best-seller Brian David Bruns.
"The Gothic Shift" begins with a man who comes into a restaurant every day to gulp down vast quantities at the shrimp buffet, while his forlorn waitress seems to gain weight on his behalf. Here Bruns achieves a delightful balance of whimsy and the grotesque, with a glimmer of moonstruck romance.
"The Finger People" is a fine study of Civil War squalor and carnage - spotlights the Union attack on the Confederate stronghold Fort Henry. A timid rebel cook discovers something even grislier than the usual horrors of war: ghouls feeding off the dead...and the living.
"The Ghost of Naked Molly" takes us back to old New Orleans on the eve of the Louisiana Purchase, where the ghost of a gorgeous octoroon slave mistress complicates the political schemes of a local grandee by parading around his house in the nude.
"The Penultimate Mr. Nilly" visits the crew of a ship stuck in the Arctic ice in 1859 as they slowly go mad from hunger. The ultimate solution - prompted by a stitched, velveteen toy wolf - gives a completely new twist on survival of the fittest.
HALL WAYS REVIEW: Audio Book Review. As summer turns to fall, and cooler temperatures start to creep in, there’s nothing better than having spooky tales to shift the mood from sunny to somber and get in that Halloween frame of mind. For those who only want to dip a toe into the macabre world, short stories are great bang for the buck. The Gothic Shift is a perfect book for getting your creep on and includes four novellas, each with its own narrator, each horrific in its own unique way. The full audio book clocks in at under ten hours, but since there are four stand-alone stories, you can listen and leave it between stories. But you won’t want to -- I started listening at the beginning of a four-hour drive, tucked it in my pocket while I unloaded, and finished it as I sat at my desk and got to work.
“He wore a brown quilted waist coat
that was deplorably unfashionable.”
For readers who enjoy a good ghost tale, “The Ghost of Naked Molly” will provide sufficient chills (and some unintended laughs if your son’s girlfriend happens to be named Molly). Readers meet Diego, a snobby, judge-y rich guy who lives in a haunted house, and Horace, a sixty-year-old, hot-blooded Yankee opportunist who is interested in carnal relations with Molly because, duh, she’s beautiful and naked. For some reason, Horace fails to see past the nudity to realize Molly’s dead (eyes up, Horace) and becomes obsessed with having his way with her -- if only Diego will present her to him to do the deed. It’s 1799, and some people are objects, not humans, and they are to be traded and sold, not considered. That’s scary enough, but what author Brian David Bruns does to give readers the creepies is slowly build the story around that premise and the suffering of those who are objects -- and how one gets her ghostly revenge. Sadly, the revenge doesn’t feel too sweet – justified, yes, but there is no real resolution when you are this ghost. This story left me melancholy. I am not sure which of the three male narrators performed this story, but he performed several different accents and made it easy to tell who was speaking, and his spin on each voice guided the listener to specific feelings toward each character. On this one, listening at regular speed was a little too slow, but 1.25x was a little too fast.
“Dead isn’t against the rules. Trashy is.”
The second story is “The Gothic Shift,” and it is my favorite of the four. Brian David Bruns skillfully describes the characters so that readers/listeners have an excellent visual of each. Paired with the narration by Brittany Morgan Williams, each of the characters becomes even more realistic and defined. In hindsight, the story was reminiscent of Stephen King’s Thinner (though “The Gothic Shift” would be Fatter) with the feeling of a curse being fulfilled time and time again. There are stories within stories in this one, and Bruns gives readers snapshots of the characters that are enough for us to fill in a bigger picture. The mysterious Mr. Armand, whose size waxes and wanes, is at the center of the story and is quietly driving it to the satisfying resolution (though I needed a little more information because I couldn’t quite put two and two together). This story is sprinkled with humor and sarcasm and subtleties that make it delicious – even as we are repulsed by the gluttonous habits of Mr. Armand. While “The Gothic Shift” doesn’t provide horror through ghosts or blood and guts, the unease of knowing of the existence of powerful and misunderstood forces in the world is what keeps you listening. The narrator was well-cast for this story, and other than a few odd pronunciations, she nailed the performance. Her pacing was perfect, and I listened at regular speed. (Side note: every time she said an exasperated “Waaaayne,” for me it conjured up Stacy from Wayne’s World. Ha!) Another favorite quote: “Misery enjoined them both in a group hug.”
“Who knew what secrets lay beneath those choppy waters? Untold horrors were right below him, unseen, waiting.”
The third story is “The Finger People,” and though initially I thought it would be my favorite, it ended up being my least favorite because of the holes, awkward transition to the climax, and then a flat resolution. But don’t skip it. Even with the flaws, there is a lot there, and the memory of the story sits in a fog around you because the author’s gift for descriptive writing brings the scenes to vivid life. There are two different kinds of horror happening in this story: the very real horror of the Civil War and the horror of nightmares with creatures who feed on the dead. These two stories operate independently for the most part but with some overlapping because war kills, and death brings the creatures. Both stories were equally fascinating and repulsive, as seen through the eyes of our main character Francois…or Frank…or Francis, who isn’t clearly defined. Is he very young or just very innocent? Mentally impaired or uneducated? All or none of the above? He definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer, and we get glimpses into his past that show he always has, but I needed a little more there, and the ending was a bit of a let-down. The narrator for this one is very good, but he has an interesting version of a southern drawl, and his pronunciation of many words (anything with an “ou” sound like in “out” or “about;” huge was “yuge”) leads me to believe he’s not a southerner. Whether you hear the difference or not, he’s perfect in giving distinct personalities to each of the characters, and his pacing is perfect, so I listened at regular speed.
“The Arctic could not be explained, just experienced.”
The final story in the audio book is “The Penultimate Mr. Nilly,” and it would probably be my favorite if it had been placed earlier in the collection. But I do really like this story, not just because “penultimate” is a favorite word of mine, but because it was psychological and realistic/situational horror. The story is one of love/hate for me because it was so dark and dismal -- my emotions paralleled those of the crew of the ship and we all – crew, ship, and I -- were sinking from the get-go. The story is full of doom and gloom and when a small, speckled ray of hope manages to appear, the horror of man’s descent into madness shatters all things good in life. In this story, author Brian David Bruns again gives the readers descriptions that put them in the middle of the setting, but his characterization is top notch. As the main character descends into madness (à la The Shining), the dread drapes itself over the readers. Paired with the narrator, who masterfully performs a variety of accents of the international crew members, readers leave the story – and the book – feeling weighed-down in tragedy and loss.
Having seen the order of the stories in the print version, which would leave the readers feeling up instead of down, and given the audio-only issues created with the choice for the first story (see below), I am stumped at why the stories were arranged differently for audio. In any case, I do recommend listening to The Gothic Shift to get immersed in a variety of eerie stories that will stick with you and creep back into your brain well after you’re done listening.
ABOUT THE AUDIO BOOK: My only real complaint is that this audio book and I got off to a rough start. Since I read Gothic Shift with my ears, and didn’t have the benefit of a table of contents to show me the names of the stories or structure of the book, my son and I (road trippin’) had a bit of confusion when we first began listening. In the audio version (which I now know is ordered differently from the digital print version), the first story is "The Ghost of Naked Molly." Readers first hear the name of the story, then, “One,” then “Two,” then “Mississippi Fog,” then “Dead Man’s Diary,” then “One,” etc. The sub-chapter numbers were unnecessary and took us out of the story - and we even thought a time or two that we were starting a new story. Old school audio listeners would have pulled out the CD case to see what was going on. With digital, I was so lost that I looked up the book on Kindle, peeked at the “Look Inside” feature, and reviewed the table of contents (helpful!). Some verbal cues from the narrator to signal chapter and sub-chapter shifts would have helped a ton. (For example, saying “Chapter one, part two” and then, “Chapter two: Mississippi Fog.”) What’s puzzling is that in the print book, "The Ghost of Naked Molly" isn’t the first story. If the audio had just stuck to the same order as the print, the confusion would have been eliminated because TGONM is the only one of the stories that has the funky sub-chapter numbering system. (It’s perfectly fine and not funky if you’re reading with your eyes and not your ears.)
Thank you to Audiobook Promotions for providing me an Audible code in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.
Brian David Bruns has adventured in over sixty countries to gather material for his bestselling books and won dozens of literary awards, including the USA REBA Grand Prize. He has been featured on ABC's 20/20 and was anointed Sir Brian by Prince Michael, Regent of the Principality of Sealand (yes, really).
Sir Brian writes of his global experiences with a self-mocking wit and an astute insight into human behavior. His historical fiction seamlessly blends his love of travel and adventure with the fantastical--a sort of Indiana Jones meets Bram Stoker.
He is devoted to veterans organizations, such as Operation Homefront and Wounded Warriors Project, to which he's donated thousands of his books.
After several years residing in Dracula's actual hometown (yes, really), he and his Romanian wife now live in Las Vegas with their two old rescue cats, Julius and Caesar.
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