Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
A treasure trove of creativity, a dynamic story collection
In Unshod, Cackling, and Naked, Tamika Thompson showcases 13 short stories that all carry an element of horror.
In one, a woman disappears on occasion and leaves her husband questioning how; in another, a man wakes up to discover his town is under siege by bats; another follows a woman as a tree overpowers her body and mind. The ten other stories will take readers on completely different journeys. What they all have in common? They’ll all leave readers with mouths wide open.
The momentum builds in this story collection. I was drawn to the creativity and creepy nature of Thompson’s writing from the very first story. In it, every pet dog has an awakening: they tire of being a pet and start to ponder being a master instead, at least of themselves. The result gets violent quickly.
More than once I thought to myself, “How did she come up with this?” And I have a feeling many other readers will think the same. Thompson displays an impressive range—stories of the supernatural, of hallucinations, of the all-too-real horrors of the human mind. From deeply heartbreaking to inspiring and destructive, anything is possible as these characters question what’s become of their realities.
I can’t pick one favorite story from Unshod, Cackling, and Naked, but I can pick a few! Like, “And We Screamed.” In it, a young girl questions her relationship with animals and her path to vegetarianism as an adult, which hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. With wholesome childhood stories that opened her eyes to some of the darker sides of her family, she realizes that killing, eating, and being around animals seems to parallel the ups and downs of her personal journey. The ending to this one shook me to my core.
Finishing that story and then jumping right into “I Am Goddess” was an experience to say the least. This transition between stories produces a sort of intensity I recognized in the beginnings and ends of multiple stories. It’s like I had to take a deep breath, but in a good way, only to be taken on yet another mind-boggling ride. In this collection you can expect some satisfying retribution, devastating lows, and a handful of highs. Regardless of the feeling, they are all intense.
There are many things to love about the stories that Thompson has written here, but their focus on Black characters and Black experiences remains a highlight for me. I felt seen through her writing of Black women, drawn to and connected to them. She takes frustrations felt by many and molds them into complex, horrific, inspiring, and creepy tales.
A beauty queen, a struggling college student, a neglected wife—these are all women we’ve read about before. But under Thompson’s control, these familiar characters are given new life and made scarier, more real, more desperate, more heartbreaking, more rewarding. She transforms common experiences with an imaginative twist.
When I finished this collection, I wanted to clap like the annoying person in a movie theater. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement.
Thank you for reading Jaylynn Korrell’s book review of Unshod, Cackling, and Naked by Tamika Thompson! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.