“Book Review: The Perfect Man”
Reviewed by Joshua Ryan Bligh
Shuddering between tales of Lovecraftian horror and psychological suspense, Alexander Smith’s The Perfect Man and Other Stories of the Supernatural will leave you unsettled one moment and inspired the next.
The stories are brief, but by the end of each one you will feel that you’ve barely clawed your way back to a seat of sanity and mundane reality. Alexander Smith’s The Perfect Man & Other Stories of the Supernatural spreads itself across multiple themes, demonstrating the author’s ability to jump between genres and styles of storytelling.
In seven short stories, Smith serves a dish packed with ghosts, otherworldly entities, enlightenment, aliens, and feral zombies. Though the material he deals with will be familiar to any purveyor of speculative fiction, Smith puts a slight spin on each story, curving it in a direction that is novel at the exact moment you start to feel comfortable.
“For now, he saw, from his perch at the top of the mountain, that fulfillment lived in the unity of everything, not in the division and conquering of its parts.”
Perhaps the grandest demonstration of the author’s ability comes in the titular story “The Perfect Man.” Its parable-esque style reads much like Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha or his brief Journey to the East, as similar themes of perfecting and knowing one’s self can be found in the story. However, unlike Hesse’s heroes, there is something more mathematic in Smith’s protagonist, a unique approach in a search for perfection and a fresh take on such an endeavor. There is a satisfaction in following the methodical pruning of imperfections as our would-be-perfect man struggles toward his ambition.
My only complaint is that there were no more stories after I turned the last page. But, in a way, the brevity of the collection mirrors Smith’s style. He keeps the language itself, the phrases and events, all terse and to the point. In tales that deal with events that might flay the minds of the observers, he keeps the stories grounded in a tight, controlled style that only diverges from the pattern in necessary moments. After all, describing the depths of one’s psyche, of the arrival of an ancient being through a tear in the sky, of possession and violence, all require a sudden change in tempo which Smith delivers adeptly.
“As the man began studying this weakness in self-confidence, he discovered a punctured hole inside himself that was bottomless and black. It oozed self-criticism and doubt in the moments he needed self-assurance and love.”
For lovers of suspense and the supernatural, there is definitely a story or two in this collection that will match your tastes, thanks to the wide range of the tales. And if you are just a fan of all things odd and unfathomable, then the entire pack will become your companion for the night as it leads you to and from worlds that are at once familiar and bizarre.
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